Guided By Voices Just Won’t Stop Making Good Albums
It’s been hard to keep up with Guided by Voices lately. In case you’ve been overwhelmed by Robert Pollard and GBV releases, the “classic” 90s lineup has yet another new album out today, The Bears for Lunch. Is it up to the level of Let’s Go Eat the Factory or Class Clown Spots a UFO? Actually, it’s better. The king of DIY has better equipment than he had in the 90s – ironically, it’s probably cheaper for him to record now than it was fifteen years ago during the band’s first heyday. And Pollard is still writing up a storm – the most recent trio of 2012 GBV albums (not to mention his more roughewn solo releases) turns out to be backloaded.
Is there another guitarist alive who gets a more luscious guitar tone than Tobin Sprout? It’s hard to think of one. As usual with this band, there are moments here where you’ll end up thinking to yourself, “c’mon, dude, just resolve the goddamn chord and get on with the song,” but those are few and far between. Episodes of self-indulgence are outnumbered by pure tuneful bliss by a factor of about 20 to 1 here, pretty impressive by GBV standards.
As usual, the tracks here run the gamut. Pollard sets the tone, “needles buried in the red” with King Arthur the Red, catchy verse paired off against nebulous chorus and all those lush, roaring, rich layers of guitar, a formula that he’s been working for decades and that he returns to again and again here. She Lives in an Airport does that with heavy chords and wry lyrics; Hangover Child sets biting hooks over rippling drum riffs and some tastily melodic bass. Pollard’s influences don’t take centerstage much beyond Up Instead of Running, which is sort of the Move done as indie, and the Pinball Wizard-ish Smoggy Boy.
The strongest of the louder songs here might be Amorphous Surprise, with its reverb-toned postpunk guitars and allusive menace. As expected, the album has several twistedly surreal miniatures, including the Wire-ish Dome Rust, the aphoristically anti-fascist Finger Gang, the wry, blues-tinged Have a Jug, and The Challenge Is Much More, which sounds like REM with balls and a British accent.
Surprisingly, the strongest moments here are the album’s quietest ones. Sprout contributes the attractively jangly, poppy acoustic number Waving at Airplanes and The Corners Are Glowing, which looks back to the Kinks’ Village Green through the prism of REM but more moody. Pollard veers from extremely direct, with Waking Up the Stars’ disarmingly attractive psych-folk, to completely off-center, as with the woozy cautionary tale You Can Fly Anything Right.
There’s also the Sonic Youth-ish, one-chord Tree Fly Jet; the growling indie powerpop of Skin to Skin Combat, the smirky antiwar vignette The Military School Dance Dismissal and a shot at 90s stadium rock, Everywhere Is Miles from Everywhere. Is this big news? Not for most fans of the band, but even so, it’s testament to the continued vitality of one of the most astonishingly prolific songwriters in rock history and the inspired group behind him.