Guided By Voices
Photo: Donna Fennell / Courtesy of PR

‘Scalping the Guru’ Highlights Guided By Voices EPs of the 1993-1994 Era

Scalping the Guru‘s 20 songs come from 1993-1994, just as Guided By Voices were about to release their landmark album Bee Thousand.

Scalping the Guru
Guided By Voices
GBV Inc.
28 October 2022

For a short period, Guided By Voices were at a crossroads. On the one hand, people in Robert Pollard‘s life were encouraging him to give up on this rock band nonsense and focus on his job as an elementary school teacher. On the other hand, the future indie favorites from Dayton, Ohio, were beginning to hit their stride thanks primarily to Pollard’s seemingly bottomless well of songs. By the mid-’90s, it was clear that Pollard couldn’t keep up with both, so Guided By Voices won out.

Pollard may have been wrestling with a big decision at the time, but that did not stop the songs from coming. That led to fellow band member Tobin Sprout helping Pollard get his tracks down on cassette in a recording spree now available as Scalping the Guru. These 20 songs come from 1993-1994, just as Guided By Voices were about to release their landmark album Bee Thousand. Fans will recognize some of these songs from previously released EPs like Get Out of My Stations, Fast Japanese Spin Cycle, Static Airplane Jive, and Crown Prince of the Menthol Trailer, with Scalping the Guru borrowing some artwork from Get Out of My Stations. For this release, Pollard has assembled all of the tracks to his liking. If you’ve always enjoyed Guided By Voices strictly for their brevity, don’t let the number of songs fool you; the album doesn’t even make it to the 34-minute mark.

Considering that Scalping the Guru is a very homemade product of dashed-off demos, it’s a worthwhile listen all its own. Bee Thousand itself was pretty scrappy as it was, making the DIY component integral to their sound. Lest we forget, Pollard’s gift for writing catchy nonsense has always had a way of poking its face through the mud, no matter how dense. So with a nagging set of songs, a band that can kind of muscle its way through mistakes, it’s safe to say that Scalping the Guru plays out like a semi-long-lost Guided By Voices album.

Around this time, the band’s lineup included Pollard and his brother Jim, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennel, Dan Toohey, Greg Demos, and Larry Keller, but a great deal of Scalping the Guru can be just one voice and one strummed electric guitar. Other times you’ll get two guitars and a vocal. Other times, Sprout will bounce the entire band into four channels, creating a blast of garage rock worthy of the overgrown weeds that likely crawled into their rehearsal space. It’s kind of cute how the drums can’t match the “Smoke on the Water” riff at the beginning of “Matter Eater Lad”, thereby really putting the “lo” in “lo-fi”.

“Rubber Man” is 32 seconds of Pollard doing his best Paul Westerberg scream, and the simplistically cool guitar riff “Pink Gun” dies out in about the same amount of time. The highlights and various would-be-Pollard-classics easily outweigh the short bursts. These include “My Impression Now”, “Volcano Divers”, “Damn Good Mr. Jam”, and “Dusty Bushworms”. The stream-of-consciousness of the brief “Hey Aardvark”, the spanning reverb spring of “Scalding Creek”, and the abrupt conclusion of the title track are also delightful in their own basement-tape way.

As far as archival releases go, Scalping the Guru is a treat. It sure beats the pants off of Our Gaze, when Robert Pollard smashed together two of his recent solo albums but left much of the material behind to rot. Scalping the Guru is fun, rough, and artful. Even if it’s not really a new Guided By Voices album, can you really ask for more?

RATING 7 / 10