Guided By Voices is an institution. Fifteen albums in the last six years. Fifteen. Calling it breakneck or rapid doesn’t come close to capturing the essence of how quickly these Ohioans crank out albums. That’s not even getting into the monikers or solo albums that lead duo, Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout, have released.
Their 38th album, Welshpool Frillies, released on Friday, July 21st. The album is headed by the single “Meet the Star”, a tune that embraces the rock side with Pollard’s clanky guitar jangling on the lead riff.
Characterized by their bent humor and crooked song titles, Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout’s rotating repertoire remain loyal to their off-kilter roots. Lyrics are full of the duo’s wry humor and absurd imagery. It’s word soup, but tasty word soup. Here’s my picks for the top ten weirdest Guided By Voices songs.
The quality of the song does not factor in this ranking. There could be a ten-second track of Pollard accidentally leaving his studio mic on called “King of the Pearl Oyster Conglomerate” that contains ten seconds of nonsense fuzz that could make it in.
10. Queen of Second Guessing
Distorted vocals babble over a guitar in this indecipherable song. It sounds like one of Daniel Johnston’s early tracks got warped by fire. “Queen of Second Guessing” closes the A-side of Get Out of My Stations a 7” later rereleased as an album to include live hits such as “Motor Away” and “Postal Blowfish.” Pollard and Sprout co-wrote this crafty name that stands out in this mostly experimental album that has the credit: “Lovingly F***ed With By Mike ‘Rep’ Hummel.”
9. Littlest League Possible
Pollard is a phenomenal baseball player, or at least he was. In 1978, he threw a no-hitter, pitching for Wright State University. Does he still get the itch to go out there? To relive the glory days? According to the song “Littlest League Possible,” yes. “Gonna have a lotta fun/Gonna hit a home run/In the littlest league possible,” he sings. If you see a 65-year-old man with short shaggy white hair step up to the plate at the local tee ball game, you know he’s gearing to beat the youngsters for his victory.
8. Tainted Angels with Butter Knives
This grimy pipe dream of a song title is from the band’s second “suitcase anthology,” released during the band’s hiatus from 2004 to 2010. This entire song plays like a sluggish acid trip in the best way possible. Thick crunchy guitars drone over this piece of gritty garage psychedelia. The song calls out Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh, “Jason Loewenstien’s a wanker” Pollard murmurs before the vocals get trampled under muddy guitars. Just as Pollard’s vocals are wiped away, you can hear “…Tainted Angels with butter knives/…wash away our sins.”
7. Maintenance Man of the Haunted House
Guided By Voices’ eleventh release since 2017, aptly titled It’s Not Them. It Can’t Be Them. It’s Them! was released in 2021. “Maintenance Man of the Haunted House” is a brooding song with high synths reminiscent of horror soundtracks. Pollard embraces the absurd qualities of the group, “Streets signs confuse/but that’s by design,” he sings before closing the song with, “And then he goes back in bleeding/to where he began reading/It’s his job description.” These loose lines are released after Earth Man Blues, described as a “faux rock-opera” in It’s Them’s release info. It’s a group taking a creative breath of fresh air.
6. Unbaited Vicar of Scorched Earth
Part of the fun of this song is trying to figure out what the title means. This song is from their 1996 release Tonics and Twisted Chasers, originally a limited release to the group’s fan club. Pollard chants the jumbled, nearly indecipherable line “Unbaited Vicar of Scorched Earth” between verses filled with primal and destructive undertones of youth. “A child did rumble when kicking loud trash/ […] /In a kitchen of birds sits a wicked child’s cat.” This album was mostly a Pollard and Sprout combination, a step back from their Under the Bushes, Under the Stars recording with producers Kim Deal and Steve Albini.
5. Crybaby 4-Star Hotel
A stilted marching rhythm starts this song evoking a skewed parade. English Little League from 2013 is not an entry-level album for listeners. Yes, it’s one of the first albums from the reunited “classic” Guided By Voices lineup (Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennelli), but the absurdities in the album play for the deeper fanbase. Knowing that Pollard installed a home studio before making this album, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the opening line for this song is “She started crying/Look where I fell/Into the Crybaby 4-Star Hotel.”
4. Class Clown Spots a UFO
A modern day “boy who cried wolf” tale is the titular track from their second 2012 album. Before that release, it was featured on their 2005 Suitcase album, and appeared as an instrumental on a solo Pollard EP. The song embraces the group’s poppier side as they shoot for the sound they captured on 1995’s Alien Lanes. Again, Pollard writes for the ruffian in the back of the classroom, “What can you say when nothing’s laid out for you?/He saw ‘em coming in the western sky/He hung his head and started to cry.” The mantra “Up, up we go now” repeats in Pollard’s isolated vocals.
3. Heaven Beats Iowa (Cub Scout Bowling Pins)
Cub Scout Bowling Pins’ lineup is identical to the current Guided By Voices lineup. It’s technically not a GBV song, but it’s released under GBV’s own label. If they didn’t want it to be associated with GBV, they should have marketed it differently. So I’m adding it. As seen in “Littlest League Possible,” Pollard is good at baseball. It’s remarkable that he went this long in his career without bringing up Field of Dreams, but when he does, it’s usually a home run. “Hit or miss/Heaven beats Iowa/In a field of grass.” This track comes from an eponymous EP filled with fuzzy power pop hits.
2. The Unsinkable Fats Domino
The “classic” lineup reunion came out with a bang. “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” celebrates the group’s return to the music scene. “How’s your life and cycle?/Compared to your next rival?/A ’59 revival?/An ‘05 survival?” This song acts as a celebration of GBV’s reunion and an homage to Fats Domino, one of Pollard’s major influences. This album delved into stilted power pop with pleasant soaring melodies.
1. Cocksoldiers and their Postwar Stubble
It’s about chickens, you freak. Fighting chickens. This song appears in their 1996 EP Sunfish Holy Breakfast. Droning distorted guitars ring over the victorious track produced by Kim Deal. Pollard has a skewed sense of humor, but a message rings through. The lines “And realize the entertainment/rise above the self-containment/compromise will be their arrangement” reveal these dreaming chickens yearn for a better life under a clever title.