Indie rock legends Guided By Voices drop their second LP of 2012 with diminishing returns.
Revitalized ‘90s indie rock legends and vehicle for Robert Pollard’s alcoholism Guided By Voices kicked off 2012 with Let’s Go Eat the Factory, a grimy yet fun reunion of the group’s “classic lineup”. With Factory the group returned to self-recording, and seemed enamored by the very fact that they were doing what they had become indie sensations for almost 20 years ago. Ever working and offputtingly prolific, songwriter and lead Robert Pollard rallied the troops and released Class Clown Spots a UFO, the groups second LP of 2012.
Though it was recorded during the same sessions as Factory, UFO seems to be without its predecessor’s thick level of tape hiss and tarnish. In fact, production seems at the highest caliber a self-recorded lo-fi album can have. Acid guitar solos are lucid amongst fuzzed-out power strumming, light strings ease their way into the middle of tracks, synths glaze otherwise lo-fi pop ditties, and vocals aren’t buried into obscurity. More noticeably, while UFO maintains Bob Pollard’s typical staccato song structure, the album has a sense of direction and does not feel like an amalgam of tunes Bob wrote in a half an hour. Songs flow into one another and the mood progresses rather naturally from track to track. It is a rare moment in Guided By Voices mythology where an album is more than a collection of songs, and it is certainly noticeable.
As for the music itself, quality ranges from instances of pop genius to terrible moments of Metallica-esque guitar sludge. “Forever until it Breaks” is both a mid-tempo synth tune that circles around a looped guitar line and an elegant description of Bob’s business and life model. The title track builds off a catchy vocal moldy with a fun horn section. “Tyson’s High School” is a swaggered arena rock anthem with swirling, psychedelic guitars. “Billy Wire” displays Pollard’s trademark ability to make earworms as catchy as they’ve ever been. On a sour note, songs such as “The Opposite Continues” are unbearably dull in their stoner garage rock bravadoes. Overall, like Factory, UFO has a handful of gems within a notable amount of filler. However, it feels as if the filler is more prominent on this release, and no song really manages to stand out as a new GBV classic.
Except, that is, for “Keep it in Motion”. Starting off with a chugging drum machine, “Keep it in Motion” blooms into an effervescent pop treasure with acoustic guitar, lovely strings, and ethereal church organ. Within the confines of an adequate album, this track stands out as not only the best track Pollard has written in years, but also one of the most poignant moments in the bands entire discography. However, this poignancy stems not from the great music, but from the conceit of the song itself. Pollard and band member Tobin Sprout gently repeat the line “Keep it in motion/keep it in line” as the song progresses, and in this they tap into the current state of GBV and Pollard’s work as a whole. It is not an instance of motivation through repetition, but rather an acceptance that Pollard has past his prime and needs to continue making music for a living instead of just for enjoyment. Not as if Pollard has tired of making music altogether (GBV has somewhat announced their third release of 2012 for the winter), but that the quality of it will never be on the same level as such past masterpieces as Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, or even such solid releases as Isolation Drills and Earthquake Glue. And that is perfectly understandable; the group was younger and more vicarious back then. However, that is exactly what Pollard is realizing in “Keep it in Motion”: that he is just older now, that the magic of mid-90s GBV is unobtainable. Making music is no longer this cool thing that he does on the side of teaching elementary school; music is his livelihood now. And he has conceded himself to keep it in motion and make it in bulk. The song is a masterpiece in both its songwriting and the way it so eloquently and effortlessly captures this point in Pollard’s career and life. Maybe I am overanalyzing and the group has just run out of consistently good material from their previous recording session. However, I firmly believe that is not the case (it is supported by the first line of the next song “you can’t go back anymore now”). Pollard will always be one of my favorite songwriters, yet it is all to clear that he has begun to grow weary as he grows older.
Class Clown Spots a UFO was released by GBV Inc. on June 11th, 2012.