Guided by Voices requires little preamble. Chances are, if you’ve landed on this page, it’s because you’re well aware that these lo-fi pioneers struck out from Dayton, Ohio nearly thirty years ago, charting territory in a sea of pop-post-punk-garage-rock, tangled cassette tape and warbling recordings, and a little bit of off-kilter weirdness. The band has been a veritable revolving door for musicians who’ve filtered in and trickled out, always circling round consistent frontman Robert Pollard, each contributing to a legacy that’s now stacked 17 records. You’ve likely watched them come and go, and you’ve probably heard that Let’s Go Eat The Factory, GBV’s latest, is an effort by the band’s “classic” lineup, as seen during peak years in the nineties. Co-writer Tobin Sprout has made peace with Pollard after a mid-nineties fallout. Mitch Mitchell, he-of-the-redundant-name-and-gritty-riffs, is back on guitar. Kevin Fennel is back on drums, and lawyer-by-day Greg Demos has picked up the bass once again. It’s got all the makings for a true return to most beloved form, and in this, the record is successful.
When it comes to churning out song after song after wildly different song, Pollard is as irrepressible a shapeshifter as ever. Let’s Go Eat The Factory packs 21 tunes and a veritable platter of styles into just 42 minutes, where Pollard and company hop from lo-fi indie to relatively industrial rock to hokey jingle to eerie lullaby in the most indirect fashion. It’s great because it’s GBV, and it doesn’t feel strained in the least, but this disjointedness lends itself to the feeling that this is more a collection than a record. Just like any collection, there are prized pieces and neglected pieces—it’s easy to treat this album like that. Not that there aren’t plenty of pieces to elevate and admire, of course, it’s just that they tend to become more than the whole.
For the straightforward indie rockers, “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” is anthemic and upbeat and a classic nineties-style gem. If you’re one for the airy and nonsensical, the light, piping single “Doughnut for a Snowman,” which is as nonthreatening as the title implies, is a delight. Here, peculiar lyrics, a lilting recorder strain and gentle harmonies bond over confections, and it is, pardon the pun, quite sweet. At times, it’s hard to decide whether the quirk is a little too base, a little too cute and elementary for cute and elementary’s sake, but it’s certainly fun.
Midway through the erratic roster comes “Waves,” a particular standout. It’s poppy, but lo-fi enough that it’s fit to soundtrack that road trip sort of soul-searching. We’re all familiar with this, right? Ideations of spontaneously taking off across the country in a beat-up hatchback with nothing but a pile of cassettes and a pack of smokes. Dusty motels in the desert, winding westward highways. “Waves” is this in song. Wrapped tight in an uncharacteristic three and a half minute package, the soft vocals and airy, staccato strums make for a perfect, dreamy background. You can just imagine getting lost in its layers as you flee from state to state during some grand, youthful escape.
“Chocolate Boy” is a catchy minute and a half of pure nineties pop. “The Things That Never Need,” is a somewhat eerie minute that seems to hang in anticipation. It features unintelligible mutterings over the same two arpeggios, climbing up and dropping down over and over again. The instrumentals here almost feel Disney-ish, like they could back that archetypal moment where some big-eyed feline protagonist is frightened by an unexpected commotion in a dark alley and tosses out a brave, wavering “Hello?” This song is that moment, that instant where the garbage can is still rattling and we’re waiting to see what pops out.
When the collection of brief and varied explosions that is Let’s Go Eat The Factory finally culminates in “We Won’t Apologize for the Human Race,” the four plus minute track seems to stretch on for eons. While most of the song is a touch uneasy, with mounting buildups and a reverberating sense of urgency, the chorus (yes, a definable, recognizable chorus) crawls up and down the major scale in a way that’s almost reassuring. It feels like a resurfacing, like a promise, and it’s a grand closer for this classically GBV (collection) album.