Writing this 12 O’Clock Track post is almost like writing a eulogy for an old friend. Yesterday it was announced that Ohio lo-fi indie-rock legends Guided by Voices had called it quits. Sure, they’ve done this before, so there’s always the chance that it won’t stick—front man and sole constant member Robert Pollard has seen more than 15 members pass through the band since 1983, so inner turmoil is the sort of thing that seems to fuel GBV’s brilliance. But the fact that the band suddenly canceled a dozen upcoming shows over the course of the next two months, including a high billing at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, adds a grim note of finality to the announcement this time.
“Guided By Voices has come to an end. With 4 years of great shows and six killer albums, it was a hell of a comeback run,” reads a post on the band’s official website. “The remaining shows in the next two months are unfortunately canceled. Our sincere apologies to those that have purchased tickets and made travel plans. Thanks to everyone who has supported GBV.” No further explanation has been provided anywhere.
Guided by Voices is my favorite band. Their perfectly crafted pop music, played through a twisted scope, has been the soundtrack to my life for years now. The band’s insistence to record in bedrooms and basements instead of studios adds a personal touch to the records, making the songs sound more like a close friend whispering in your ear rather than five dudes raging at top volume. Their output has never produced anything that’s less than great, and their string of early-90s releases—Propeller, Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars—is a pristine run, each record beautiful and perfect and untouchable in its own right. Onstage the band transforms from whimsical indie rockers into legitimate rock gods, whipping around Les Pauls, chugging bottles of domestic beer, and chain smoking cigarettes, expending more energy and sounding better than musicians a third their age.
Two years ago, the band I was playing drums in was privileged enough to go on a short tour with Guided by Voices. They were a couple of years into the reunion tour they started in 2010—a return from their initial 2004 breakup—a four-year run that gave the world six new records that proved the band, even as its members closed in on 60, weren’t slowing down. Watching them play each night and hanging out with them was inspirational, because up close they’re exactly what I always expected them to be: they’re normal, really nice dudes who just really enjoy playing rock music and drinking beer. The only thing that sets them apart from anyone else’s midwestern dad is that they’re really, really fucking excellent at playing rock music. Like the best ever.
Choosing a song for today’s 12 O’Clock Track is very difficult. In a 1996 interview Pollard approximated that he had written at least 5,000 songs at that point, so the number of tunes to choose from is astronomical. That’s part of the beauty of the GBV catalog: it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I discover a new favorite GBV track every couple weeks or so, and right now it’s “Dodging Invisible Rays” off of 1995’s Tigerbomb EP. It’s a perfect gem written and sung by guitarist Tobin Sprout, and it kind of wraps up my feelings on the band’s disillusion: I’m deeply saddened to see these amazing guys disappear again, and the song pulls on your heartstrings a little bit. But it’s also beautiful and joyful, and that’s how I feel any time I hear a song by the band.
Maybe we’ll see the guys in GBV again. Maybe not. Either way, we’ll always have the records and legacy. And how great are those?