Guided By Voices – [EP]

Sunday, 06 November 2011

After having been apart for fifteen years, Guided By Voices' classic lineup – with Robert Pollard on vocals and guitar, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, drummer Kevin Fennell, bassist Greg Demos and multi-instrumentalist Tobin Sprout – announced in June 2010 that they had reconvened and, in addition to touring, were beginning to work on new material. Long-time fans rejoiced at the news; while Pollard has illustrated that he's perfectly prolific on his own without assistance, the classic GBV lineup had a sort of charmed sound and presence which has never been perfectly replicated by anyone else – including subsequent permutations of the group. Fans have waited anxiously since word of a return spread and, now, the band has announced the release of the Doughnut For A Snowman EP to drive anticipation for the release of Let's Go Eat The Factory (which comes out on January 1, 2012) still higher.

Fans' excitement and anticipation is justified as Doughnut For A Snowman's title track fades in to open the A-side of this seven-inch. The innocence which won so many fans  to albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes is instantly apparent as “Doughnut For Snowman” – a love song for an ice cream truck driver – warms up and rolls through. With surprisingly thick (but not at all bombastic) instrumentation, Guided By Voices locks easily into the same rhythm and emotional center it always had, as if they never left; Pollard's vocal is sweet, soft and understated (check out lines like, “Starts off the day with a Krispy Kreme doughnut – as sweet as life can get,” and you'll be locked in and captivated too – guaranteed) while the backing instrumentation feels instantly familiar and welcome.

This is the sort of return that long-time fans only dared to hope for, and that it's realized here is a dream come true.

The recorder line which opened “Doughnut For A Snowman” (and is so, so adorably campy) continues to reoccur even as the song fades out and ends up being the central instrumental theme for “So High.” For any other band, “So High” would likely just be regarded as a quizzically disjointed outro for “Doughnut For A Snowman” (it is only forty-seven seconds long, after all) but it is a separate song for Guided By Voices, and somehow it feels like it should be. Here, the campy, heart-on-its-sleeve tenor of the song has all the beauty and sweetness of an elementary school MASH Note and, while “Doughnut For A Snowman” is sweet, it's a completely separate thought from “So High” and so the latter ends up feeling like a reward – a perfectly quirky little gift – all on its own.

After that, the going gets bizarre as “Without Necks” bears all the marks of a rehearsal that someone recorded live off the floor (the melodies are the least developed of all the songs on the EP) and the gaunt, angular guitars of “Fish On My Leg” compliment the closest to a completely stoned vocal performance on the EP. Even so though, as unsettling as these two tracks are, it's important to point out that they're what fans have been waiting/hoping to hear from this lineup of Guided By Voices for a while; they're weird and undeniably half-formed, but the fun in them is also impossible to miss. There's no doubt in listening that the band's members are having a ball re-discovering “how things used to work,” and listeners will definitely get a contact high from that.

After the gooey middle of the EP meanders through, everything firms up again as soon as “1, 2, 3, 4” opens to close up shop. Once again campy and adorable, the whole band marches along tightly to the sound of the same happily-returned drummer and leaves listeners feeling elated in the end; it was a pretty ride and a sweet ride, which can't help but feel pretty sweet, even if it only was about six minutes long. As off-beat as Doughnut For A Snowman may be by “modern indie rock” standards, those who remember how blurry the lines could get in the creative process for an underground rock record in the Nineties will understand and get excited by this EP and the angle it promises to see Let's Go Eat The Factory flesh out. As was the case with the best Guided By Voices records back in the day, readers are advised go out and buy this seven-inch, bring it home, play it and watch what sort of little structures it creates; it'll be a short but fantastic ride, and get appetites whet for the full-length coming in January.



The Doughnut For A Snowman
EP will be released on November 28, 2011 by Fire Records. Let's Go Eat The Factory will be released on January 1, 2012 by Fire Records. Pre-order Doughnut For A Snowman here on Amazon, and pre-order Let's Go Eat The Factory here .

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