Album review: Guided By VoicesBy John Wenzel | December 20th, 2011 | 4 comments
Guided by Voices, “Let’s Go Eat the Factory” (Guided by Voices Inc.)
Seminal Dayton, Ohio, indie rock band Guided by Voices called it quits on Dec. 31, 2004.
But as we’ve learned time and time again, breakups and retirements aren’t worth the pink slips they’re printed on, so after a successful, year-long reunion tour, the “classic” early ’90s lineup of the band announced a surprise full-length.
Nostalgia runs deep on “Let’s Go Eat the Factory” — for the ’90s, for the wide-eyed experimentation of lo-fi indie rockers, for the addictive pop pleasures of GBV’s best work. And while it never overwhelms Robert Pollard’s stubborn loyalty to his weird, ever-evolving songwriting muse, it can’t help but inform our reception of the album. In fact, the band is counting on it.
There’s a comforting, rickety charm to the classic lineup, which includes leader Pollard, guitarist-songwriter Tobin Sprout, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin Fennell. Their chemistry is evident from the noisy first notes of “Laundry and Lasers,” which ambles into existence like a stunned, mutant calf. The saccharine, sing-songy “Doughnut for a Snowman” is another early indication that Pollard’s knack for hot-glue melodies is still firmly intact. And there’s a crispness to the production, too, despite the kitchen-sink recording approach and intentionally muddy after-effects.
Sprout’s “Spiderfighter,” one of six songs from the elfin-voiced Pollard foil and fan favorite, starts out as a tangled-wire rocker before its breathtaking turn into a delicately vulnerable piano coda (think “You’re Not an Airplane” from “Bee Thousand”). From the ominous, Beatles-esque “Hang Mr. Kite,” which would fit perfectly on any of Pollard’s early solo albums, to the beefy single “The Unsinkable Fats Domino,” things always feel a little off, and in the best of ways. Bizarre lyrics, obscured percussion, molested synths — it’s all there, recalling the band’s “Vampire on Titus” more so than “Alien Lanes” or even “Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.”
Instantly memorable melodies aren’t as prevalent as some superfans might hope (other than the wistful “Chocolate Boy,” a triumph that stands with the best of Pollard’s work) but Guided By Voices is hardly known for living up to expectations. (Remember the massively under-appreciated “Isolation Drills”? Neither do most people.)
“Factory” is neither a career-defining classic nor a throwaway cash-in. It’s both tossed-off and labored over, satisfying and tantalizing. In other words, just what the world needs from one of the most mythologized indie bands of all time. And we’re not done yet: 2012 sees the release of “Class Clown Spots a UFO,” the second album from the re-formed classic lineup. Get ready, sad freaks.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of completely random song titles and band names.