And now the electrifying conclusion.
“Dodging Invisible Rays” - Tigerbomb
This is a great example of Tobin Sprout acting as Robert Pollard’s songwriting foil. The song is a sweet little melody, and Sprout’s higher pitched lilt propels the song forward in a way that kind of obscures the sadder elements of the song’s lyrics. “I get the feeling that you’re just circling around.”
“Drag Days” - Under the Bushes Under the Stars
This song does something that I think Robert Pollard does very well, but I don’t often here people discussing it. Quite simply, it evokes the experience of running around with your friends as a child. At least it does to me. Unlike some of the songs coming later in this segment, this one effectively adds a mournful nostalgia, which I normally hate, but Bob Pollard’s earnestness combined with that lead guitar part make the nostalgia real.
“Marchers in Orange” - Fast Japanese Spin Cycle
This song is a great example of Robert Pollard creating both powerful and obscure images. I’m going to venture a guess that this song is at least vaguely about prisons, but the specifics of its origin are not super important. What is super important is that bouncy guitar line and the beautiful and fun open lyrics “White lines are the tracers for the facers of the aftermath.”
“Dusted” - Fast Japanese Spin Cycle
Unlike its predecessor on this list, I do think both versions of this song are passable, though I prefer the EP version to the LP version. Anyway, this song is (from what I’ve been told) and exploration of the damage done by religion (“Push me now beyond the boughs of healing hands and thorny crowns. And all the sadness it implies, I’ve tasted with my own two eyes.”) Lyrically this may be one of the most intricate and well executed songs in the Pollard oeuvre. Musically, it is a fun, punky pop gem.
“Kicker of Elves” - Bee Thousand
This strange little acoustic track was the hook that got me to stick with Bee Thousand until it eventually became a top five record for me. The song isn’t too complicated. Its simple acoustic chords carry a shaking voice. The surreal lyrics are some of my favorites, and I think they came from a story written in one of Pollard’s fourth grade classrooms.
“Pendulum” - Same Place the Fly Got Smashed
If there is a song that is the Guided by Voices theme song, for better or worse, it’s probably this. The jangly guitar propels this bouncy track about adults with alcoholism and a penchant for enjoying things a bit too much. It really is one of the earliest showings of Pollard’s budding lyrical brilliance. “When the pendulum swings it cuts! When the big door swings open it shuts. We’ll be middle-aged children by so what?”
“Motor Away” - Alien Lanes
One thing I’m noticing about Alien Lanes as I write this list is how many of the songs on it are perfect to singing along to in the car. This is probably the best example of that. The rhythm that the guitar is playing would otherwise be so jarring, but it fits so brilliantly here. The song feels very fun and light, but like so many of the best songs, it seems to be about some kind of loss. “You can free yourself from the chance of a lifetime.”
“My Impression Now” - Fast Japanese Spin Cycle
This is another great happy-sounding song, but lyrically it’s kind of a bummer, “Stand on the edge of the ledge. Jump off cuz nobody cares.” This is a great one to shout along to in the car either way. And the way the bassline is quietly doing so much of the melodic legwork is really beautiful.
“Kisses to the Crying Crooks” - Fast Japanese Spin Cycle
This basic melody, and some of the lyrics make up the first part of “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox” off of Propeller, but I think the tune is better served by the production here. It is simply Pollard’s voice and an acoustic guitar banging out a minute and a half of gorgeous melody capped off perfectly by the song’s meandering guitar solo. This song would be a perfect starting point for the uninitiated, if not for its relative obscurity.
“Break Even” - Grand Hour
This is definitely one of the darkest Guided by Voices tracks. It’s also one of the tracks that most proudly waves the psychedelic flag. It feels very kaleidoscopic, if that’s a thing that you can say about a song. It shifts very fluidly in and out of different tempos and textures. It has also been a staple of recent live shows, and it is a brilliantly fun one to see live.
“Hardcore UFOs” - Bee Thousand
There is very little about this song I don’t love. Lyrically it’s so evocative of the feelings that made me want to start a band the thousands of times I’ve wanted to start a band. “Count the days that we have wasted from the start.” The other almost magical element to this song is that moment when the lead guitar cuts out during the second chorus I think. According to legend, someone burned the tape with a cigarette by accident, and that section of guitar is gone forever. But listening to Guided by Voices is about celebrating those little fuck ups!
“Little Whirl” - Alien Lanes
The muddy production on this one is, I think, its strength. Tobin Sprouts vocals are almost indecipherable. But this is a quick and sweet bubblegummy track, and it’s lonely weird little finish add to the sadness that seems to want to be expressed in it.
“Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim)” - Vampire on Titus
This is another, great, sad Tobin Sprout song. For me, this song evokes the sad parts of childhood. Im not sure if that was Sprout’s intent, but that’s what it evokes in me. And t he harmonies on the chorus are so sweet and heartbreaking. I’d also go so far as to say that this is my favorite Tobin Sprout song.
“Blimps Go 90” - Alien Lanes
I love this strings, I love Bob Pollard’s quietness, and I love the lyrics. This song contains my absolute favorite Guided by Voices lyric “Oftentimes I’m reminded of those sweet young days, when I poured punch for the franchise and thus was knighted, got so excited.” It’s another evocative track, but I’m not sure of what. It makes me wistful for something I can’t quite pin down.
“Hey Hey, Spaceman” - Devil Between my Toes
This is probably the first song to really sound like a Guided by Voices song, you know? The guitar lead is so hypnotic, and the chorus is so divine. And, like I mentioned in my blurb about “Drag Days,” it evokes memories of childhood and playing in treehouses. It makes me want to go play in the backyard again.
“The Official Ironmen Rally Song” - Under the Bushes Under the Stars
I think this is one of the most passionate vocal performances Uncle Bob ever gave. Combined with that nifty little guitar lead, and some heartbreaking lyrics, you have what to me is the perfect “sad bastard” song. But it’s not just a sad bastard song, it’s also something of a celebration of the entire idea of sad bastard songs. “To dine alone, to build a private zone.”
“Your Name is Wild” - Under the Bushes Under the Stars
There something kind of country-ish about this song to me. Or at the very least something about what appeals to me about this song is very similar to what appeals to me about country music. If I had to point to any one thing that I love most about music it would be the way Robert Pollard sings “And I’ll be taking you soon now to read the Orange signs.”
“Glow Boy Butlers” - Static Airplane Jive
I try to sing along to this one in the car. Like a lot. But it’s a tough one because I don’t know the lyrics. I think this song’s main strength is the drumming. I love airdrumming to this one. Otherwise I love the seemingly effortless shift in musical tone from verse to bridge to chorus. And the little mini-outro with the guitars is magnificent.
“My Valuable Hunting Knife” - Alien Lanes
This song may not be about killing his ex-wife, but Robert Pollard does compare her unfavorably to a knife “It will not rust through the tears, and it will not lose its appeal over years.” This song feels like it has a lot of empty space that add to its overall desperate tone. The chorus of “I’ll never know” is so simple and moving and sad.
“Gold Star for Robot Boy” - Bee Thousand
This is one of two songs that was specifically written for that album. It’s also just an amazing, fun song. Its origins can, like many of these songs, be traced to Robert Pollard’s teaching days. There’s something about the cadence of “If I waited for lessons and true confessions that could take all day” that really hits me where it counts in terms of songs, you know?
“Sot” - Vampire on Titus
Getting started on listening to Guided by Voices is going to reap rewards for a very long time. Case in point: this song. I mean, I’d heard it before, but up until like two weeks ago, I hadn’t really listened to it. It very nearly perfectly captures the spirit of what was happening with Vampire on Titus. The way the guitar mingles with the almost buried vocals is perfect. And the chorus is so powerful, and I think is something of a mantra for Guided by Voices, “There’s nothing I’d rather do than be here right now.”
“Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy” - Propeller
This, folks, is the first Guided by Voices song I ever heard (except maybe Hold on Hope, but songs on Scrubs don’t count.) It was love at first listen. The bass line that carries this song sounds like it could be from a Cure song. The sort of lazy melody of the vocals could be from a late 70s punk band or maybe some kind of twee pop. And the overall sensation is distinctly Guided by Voices. Also, I have seen the band four times on the reunion tour, and this is consistently the best song of every set.
“Non-Absorbing” - Vampire on Titus
This is another song that apparently comes from Mr. Pollard’s teaching days. This is another simple one. It starts as just vocals and a a guitar, then on the second chorus the drums come in. It’s a perfect car-singer due to its simple and repetitive lyrics, its emptiness allows it to sink in, and its lyrics evoke the desperation of thinking about some lady or dude you have a crush on. At least I think.
“Queen of Cans and Jars” - Bee Thousand
The second that lead guitar part comes in, you’re going to be hooked. And if you’re not, kindly never know me anymore. I’m not entirely sure what this song is even about, but I know it’s fun, jangly guitar, and fun, jangly vocal melody make it the absolute high point every time I listen to Bee Thousand. This song also holds a special place for me because the first two times I saw Guided by Voices, Mitch Mitchell consistently fucked up the lead part.
“Quality of Armor” - Propeller
This could have been a Beatles song. I mean other than the fact that it is pretty clearly some sort of answer to “Drive my Car,” it has the melody and harmonies necessary to be a Beatles song. But in being an underproduced Guided by Voices song, it has (in my opinion) risen above that. From the opening harmonization of “Oh yeah, I’m gonna drive my car,” to the guitar kicking in, to the lyrics, to the fade out on the last chorus, everything about this track is perfect. It’s just so mind obliteratingly absolutely perfect. It’s also the first song Robert Pollard ever wrote on guitar. And beyond just being my favorite Guided by Voices song, it’s just my straight up favorite song. Shut up and go listen to it.