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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

An Appreciation of Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices


BMI, the music-publishing large, names Robert E. Pollard Jr. as creator of two,485 songs, an alphabetic listing that begins with “1 Years Outdated” and ends with “ZX35 Pow.” AllMusic lists 120 albums, singles, and EPs Pollard has launched with Guided By Voices, and twenty-seven albums related together with his personal identify. And that is not all of them.

For file collectors, the issue with Pollard is not the sheer amount of songs and albums a lot as their uniformly top quality. When Guided By Voices performed the 9:30 Membership in Washington in October 2010, on certainly one of their many reunion excursions, Pollard sang forty songs, all of them good. And forty songs, for Pollard, just isn’t a very lengthy set.

For those who’re studying this and you do not personal any Robert Pollard albums, you might be lacking out on one of many nice songwriters of the indie-rock period. If you buy all six of the information I’ll shortly advocate, you may personal perhaps half of his top-drawer songs. It is a begin.

Robert Pollard was born in 1957 in Dayton, Ohio. His childhood spanned the period from Sgt. Pepper to The Conflict.

“In junior excessive, I listened to AM radio,” he informed AllMusic in an interview. “All of the hits. Additionally, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, however I used to be actually into bubblegum. Ohio Categorical, Herman’s Hermits, 1910 Fruitgum Firm, Motown. I did not perceive Sgt. Pepper in any respect.”

Pollard began singing in actual bands in faculty however launched no correct album till 1987, the 12 months he turned thirty. He describes his first a number of LPs as “vainness” recordings, within the sense that not many individuals purchased them.

“We did six of them earlier than we had been signed to Scat Data out of Cleveland,” Pollard recalled. “We by no means tried to promote ourselves. We by no means despatched a file out for evaluate. I had no confidence in any way that anybody may truly care. We did it purely to entertain ourselves. I did not suppose I used to be an excellent songwriter. Satisfactory, however nothing value selling.”

The sixth LP, a home-recorded, lo-fi gem titled Vampire on Titus, caught the {industry}’s ear. The seventh, Bee Thousand, made the highest 10 on Robert Christgau’s influential annual Pazz & Jop Critics Ballot. Bee Thousand made Pollard an indie rock star at thirty-six, releasing him to give up his schoolteacher job.

Pollard was a late bloomer. Take into account: Paul Weller, a fellow Who fan, born a 12 months after Pollard, scored his first hit with the Jam in 1977, at eighteen. By the point Weller turned twenty-five, the Jam had damaged up.

Guided By Voices launched albums about annually till 2004, when Pollard broke up the band. He spent a number of years dabbling in solo works and aspect tasks earlier than reforming GBV in 2010. The band has since launched at the very least twenty extra albums.

Here’s a selective information to a half-dozen of the very best Robert Pollard albums: 4 common studio releases and two compilations, spanning almost twenty years.


Bee Thousand, 1994. Bee Thousand

In hindsight, this lo-fi masterpiece could also be the very best rock ‘n roll album of 1994. With Bee Thousand, Pollard unleashed an aural assault of Nuggets garage-pop gems. Signing with an actual label had launched him on a songwriting tear. The band later launched a three-album “Director’s Lower” of songs from these classes, a few of which had already popped up on a 1995 field set as King Shit & the Golden Boys. It was a fertile time.

“I believe the sudden consideration actually did not harm the surge in creativity,” Pollard recalled. “It additionally coincided with our discovery of the four-track recorder and the way far more music we may pump out with it.” Pollard’s deliberate retreat from low-rent recording studios into zero-rent residence recording looms giant in his legend.

“We had been not on the mercy of sterile ‘skilled’ studios,” he mentioned. “We began moving into the notion of creating ‘unprofessional’ errors, noise, nonsense… however nonetheless good songs. Permitting the listener to come back into our basements in Dayton, Ohio. I believe that was the mystique.”

Just a few of the longer cuts – “longer,” on this context, that means ninety seconds or extra – endure as indie-pop classics, together with “Gold Star for Robotic Boy,” “I Am a Scientist,” “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Listing” and the regrettably named “Tractor Rape Chain.” However the full album performs like a biggest hits. It’s that good.


Alien Lanes, 1995. Alien Lanes

In case anybody thought Pollard’s twenty-song masterpiece is likely to be a fluke, he adopted it with a twenty-eight-song masterpiece. Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand vie for consideration as greatest GBV album. The strongest cuts on Alien Lanes, together with “Sport of Pricks,” “My Worthwhile Looking Knife” and the show-starter “A Salty Salute,” rank amongst Pollard’s greatest, however there’s not a nasty minimize on the file.

Collectively, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes delivered a grasp class in lo-fi, displaying what a grasp songwriter may accomplish in his basement with a four-track recorder and a very good ear. Every little thing in regards to the songs, from their Minutemen size to their purposefully homespun sound, challenged music-industry norms about how rock ‘n roll music ought to be made. Alien Lanes marked additional progress up the meals chain for GBV, launched by Matador Data and seeding the band’s first tv look on The Jon Stewart Present.


Isolation Drills, 2001. Isolation Drills

Most Pollard followers regard the GBV albums launched between Bee Thousand and the band’s 2004 breakup as his greatest work. The sprawling 1996 launch Below the Bushes Below the Stars ranks not far behind Alien Lanes in songcraft. With the wonderful Magazine Earwhig! in 1997, Pollard dismissed his band and located his personal Loopy Horse, colonizing a Cleveland outfit referred to as Cobra Verde. He collaborated with producer Ric Ocasek on the 1999 launch Do the Collapse, a lesser GBV entry solely in relative phrases: It is an excellent file.

Once I requested Pollard to advocate six albums for brand new listeners, he put Isolation Drills on the prime of his listing. Launched in 2001, Isolation Drills most likely holds collectively as an album higher than the rest within the GBV catalog. It is one of many nice breakup information, recorded as Pollard’s marriage was crumbling. The album resonates with uncooked energy and harm. “You construct your fires into an open wound,” he sings in “Twilight Campfighter.” In “The Brides Have Hit Glass,” he sings that “there’s a greater highway forward of me/I simply do not know the right way to make it there.”

At the least half of the sixteen songs on Isolation Drills are deathless Pollard classics. At essential moments, Pollard the lyricist abandons the garage-psych-absurdist opacity of his earlier recordings and grabs his listeners by the throat, exorcising common themes of loss and anger and remorse, with music as plainly accessible as something on Rumours.

“Most individuals get it,” Pollard mentioned merely.


Earthquake Glue, 2003. Earthquake Glue

Close to the tip of the traditional GBV run, Pollard was spinning off two or three near-perfect power-pop songs per album. It’s a must to admire the sheer songcraft of “My Sort of Soldier,” “The Principal Road Wizards” and “The Better of Jill Hives,” two- and three-minute gems of the verse-chorus-verse kind from Earthquake Glue.

Is Earthquake Glue one of many 4 greatest GBV albums? Who is aware of? Magazine Earwhig! Has extra vitality and plenty of nice songs. Below the Bushes would have capped the profession of just about some other band. Pollard himself argues for Common Truths and Cycles, from 2002. You’ll be able to’t actually go fallacious with any of them.


The Better of Guided by Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Charges, 2003. Human Amusements at Hourly Rates

This 32-song set delivers a splendid summation of the band’s decade-long run as indie-rock gods. A devoted fan may simply discover 32 different songs from the identical period that sound almost pretty much as good, however this assortment covers a lot of the peaks, from “A Salty Salute” to “Sport of Pricks” to “The Official Ironman Rally Track” to “Teenage FBI.”

In idea, you would purchase this disc and the three information listed above and be achieved with it. Let’s be trustworthy, although: As soon as you’ve got performed Human Amusements three or 4 instances, you may extra probably really feel your GBV journey has solely begun.


Out of the Universe by Sunset: The Biggest Hits of Boston Spaceships, 2012. Boston Spaceships

Pollard had launched a number of solo albums and aspect tasks by the point he disbanded GBV in 2004. A few of them are superb: My private favourite might be Communicate Kindly of Your Volunteer Hearth Division, from 1999, a collaboration with Doug Gillard, the GBV guitarist.

The fast and lazy Pollard putdown is that he by no means knew a very good tune from a nasty one, and that he put completely the whole lot out on disc. Critics use that line to dismiss (or at the very least to dis) Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand. The quip is neither honest nor correct: Pollard clearly selected each forty-second snippet on these releases with nice care.

“I used to get accused of throwing away higher songs within the days when not too many individuals cared, and I will admit I used to be fairly unfocused,” Pollard mentioned. “Lately, I am extra dialed in to what’s a ‘keeper’ and what’s a throwaway.”

Pollard does have a tendency to avoid wasting his greatest songs for the core band releases: Do the Collapse, no matter its flaws, is a greater album than Communicate Kindly of Your Volunteer Hearth Division.

No shock, then, that a few of the greatest Robert Pollard materials from the years after the good GBV breakup wound up on the Boston Spaceships albums, his full-band mission from 2008 to 2011. Boston Spaceships launched 5 strong albums. I do not know if any ranks with the higher GBV releases in front-to-back depth. However the greatest-hits set holds its personal alongside the classics on a Pollard playlist.

Boston Spaceships fashioned in the summertime after Pollard’s fiftieth birthday, an age effectively previous the freshness dates of most pop songsters. The mere proven fact that Pollard may nonetheless write songs that approached the very excessive bar of his early stuff put him in rarified air: Valuable few rock ‘n rollers are nonetheless difficult listeners of their fifth and sixth many years.


Pollard turns sixty-five in October. His re-formed Guided By Voices has reached as excessive as 83 on the Metacritic ranking scale (with Crystal Nuns Cathedral). Every of the band’s final six long-players has earned a four-star ranking from AllMusic.

“You already know, I’ve by no means understood how somebody who was nice immediately not has it,” Pollard mentioned. “And also you’re proper, it occurs to nearly everybody. Largely I simply suppose it is boredom and complacency. It blows my thoughts, although, how folks like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger cannot, or do not even need to, write ‘She’s Leaving Dwelling’ or ‘Ruby Tuesday’ anymore.”


Bonus listing: Robert Pollard’s prime six Robert Pollard albums for the neophyte.

1. Isolation Drills. “Very pleasant to the ear of most music followers. Most individuals get it.”

2. Bee Thousand. “It is the one one the place writers constantly use the phrase ‘masterpiece.'”

3. From a Compound Eye, 2006. “My first solo album. I actually thought one thing would occur with it. Like Peter Gabriel’s breakaway from Genesis.”

4. Common Truths and Cycles. “It has the whole lot on the subject of my influences and the variety of my songwriting types.”

5. Tremblers and Goggles by Rank, 2022. “A giant departure in a extra progressive path.”

6. “Our subsequent album, La La Land, out in January.”


Daniel de Visé is a frequent AllMusic contributor and creator of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King.

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