TVs are getting more and more realistic. Sky has just launched its own 3D service so now you can watch this year’s Ryder Cup in three stunning dimensions; every inch of that manicured countryside, each drive and swing happening right in front of you. Having said that, it’s still golf. I hate golf. If I watch golf in 3D, I’m just being bored over something more realistic which, if anything, feels like more of a betrayal. The quality of the medium isn’t always important; you can watch ‘Brass Eye’ or ‘The Ascent of Man’ on a shoddy monochrome set and it would still be great, but you can watch ‘Hannah Montana’ unspool in front of you in the most gloriously uncompressed quality imaginable and still want to force a drill down your neck. Guided By Voices realised this pretty early.
Their first EP was recorded in a professional studio, squeaky clean, backed, sacked and cracked, but/therefore frontman Robert Pollard and the rest of the band hated it. Retreating to various basements and laundry rooms with some battered instruments and some cheap tape recorders, the Guided By Voices sound grew, developed and reformed away from prying eyes into something incomparable and magnificent. Their songs are often startlingly short (and numerous), as if the band have a skittish attention span, and are mostly accompanied by an unhealthy background fuzz and their blatantly lax attitude to rehearsal obvious from a lot of their records, but once you get past these factors, you’ll find a band to treasure. Even when they came out of the basement and back into the studio, they had grown enough that they were still great, freely blending psychedelica, prog-rock, garage-punk and British-Invasion pop into something completely their own.
Finally back together after a long period in the wilderness, Let’s Go Eat The Factory is made up of both roughly-sewn studio works and earthy and battered lo-fi recordings. Like a lot of their records, this album takes several spins to fully get into, but once you become accustomed to the ins and outs of the songs, it won’t leave your sight for a long time. Robert Pollard’s voice is as strange/good as ever; he sings how a drunk guy sings in his head. His lyrics aren’t about meaning, they’re about sound and the way the words flow and grind against each other, though occasionally, what he’s actually talking about leaps out at you. For instance, ‘How I Met My Mother’ is probably the creepiest song about childbirth ever.
The strangeness isn’t just confined to Pollard’s ramblings though. Some of the music itself sound like an abortive mistake on the first few listens, but you eventually come to love them. For instance, probably the strangest thing here, ‘The Things That Never Need’ sounds like a swarm of bees reciting Patti Smith poetry over a piano line, but it’s short enough that you don’t need too much patience and eventually it becomes a joy to hear its weirdness and the whole album moves so fast that you won’t need to wait long for a change of scene. Perceptions of Guided By Voices songs can change overnight, so I don’t like to select favourites at this stage, but some of the most immediate songs here include the strange stripped-back psych-folk of ‘Hang Mr. Kite’, the wise-crack-trading ‘The Unsinkable Fats Domino’ and the warm, undulating ‘Waves’, penned by guitarist Tobin Sprout.
First and foremost, like pretty much all GBV albums, this is an album, not a collection of songs. You’re supposed to listen to this in full – since it flows together so well and so fluidly – and while it’s a bit of work to throw yourself into it, the more time you invest in it, the more it will pay you back. Even when it’s recorded through smoke and beer-drenched grime and buzz, a great song is a great song and there’s plenty of them here, you just need to unearth them. Joe Hill