"YOU KNOW that Mott the Hoople song 'All the Young Dudes'?" asks Guided by Voices guitarist Tobin Sprout. "When the singer calls out the guy in the glasses, for some reason that always reminded me of us. We always attracted the people who were more into music than whether it was popular or not."
Guided by Voices' eventual success is the result of years of unwavering conviction (and ceaseless songwriting) in the face of skepticism from friends and family—not to mention indifference from the world at large. When college-radio tastemakers finally caught on to the Dayton, Ohio, band in the early '90s, singer and principal songwriter Robert Pollard was over the age of 30 and working as a fourth grade teacher. But he didn't have time to be vindictive—he was too busy writing pop songs.
In an era when indie rock and ironic detachment have grown inextricable, GBV's latest record, Cool Planet, sounds like the perfect remedy. They're still enthusiastic kids standing in front of the mirror, perfecting their scissor kicks, pretending the broomsticks they're holding are electric guitars. They're the antithesis of their descendants, the painfully self-conscious, ersatz punk of Mac DeMarco and Wavves. At 56, Pollard has written more than 1,500 songs, and he still isn't jaded. You'd be hard-pressed to find a purer embodiment of the rock 'n' roll ideal.
After Guided by Voices disbanded in 2004, a reunion of the "classic" lineup—consisting of Pollard, Sprout, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennell—came together in 2010 (although Fennell has since been replaced by Kevin March under nebulous circumstances). True to prolific form, they've since released an impressive six albums, two this year alone.
Cool Planet is especially noteworthy for being the group's most consistently polished affair since 2001's glossy, Rob Schnapf-produced Isolation Drills. It was recorded using high-quality analog equipment at Cyberteknics Studio in Dayton, and the seemingly tireless group has tentative intentions to start recording another record later in the year. "Next fall or winter we'll go into the studio again, and I'm pretty sure we'll go back to Cyberteknics, as we were really happy with [Cool Planet]," says Sprout. "There's no real release date or title or anything yet, but it's just sort of out there."
The greatest Guided by Voices records (which are, in the slightly-less-than-humble opinion of your author: Bee Thousand, Propeller, and Vampire on Titus, in that order) remain as rewarding to the listener as they are challenging. There's virtually no such thing as a "casual" Guided by Voices fan. The group's catalog is so convoluted that GBV devotees are inherently completist—pop masochists that don't mind wading through the lo-fi high seas for that elusive but gorgeous and entirely worthwhile hook.
But for those pessimistic about rock music's future as a viable form of music, Guided by Voices remain the brightest beacon there is. Pollard and Sprout are both pushing 60, and are somehow still churning out slab after slab of youthful power pop.
"I don't see any reason for rock to disappear—there are still a lot of people who really care about it, and there are still people making great records," says Sprout. "Why, are you afraid that it's gonna go away?"