ALBUM OF THE WEEK #1: Guided by Voices - The Styles We Paid For (Guided by Voices Inc)
The unstoppable Bob Pollard lets fly the third GBV record of 2020 -- made in quarantine, rocks the same
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." That's the old motto of the United States Postal Service, but it works for Guided by Voices, too. Bob Pollard has records to make and release, and nothing is going to stop him. Certainly not a global pandemic. The original idea for Guided by Voices' third album of 2020 when Pollard wrote the songs back in February, was that it would be recorded live to analogue tape and would be called Beyond Computers. Instead, the band recorded it remotely during quarantine from five different states, and it was "assembled and mixed" entirely in a computer by producer Travis Harrison.
Despite the digital, stitched-together way it was made, The Styles We Paid For is a pretty typical sounding Guided by Voices album (#31 if you're counting). A good one too, full of Pollard's signature anthemic rock songs, steeped in The Who, Wire and all his other favorite stuff but sounding only like GBV. He never seems to run out of tunes, nor the band riffs, and never lets his songs go on longer than needed. Often, you want them to be longer. On "Megaphone Riley," which opens the album (and mentions a "jumbo virus"), the chorus only comes once, right at the end of the song. If you want to hear it again you're gonna have to replay the song. (Smart.) That leave-em-wanting-more approach has always served them well, and Styles is a 15-course meal made up entirely of crunchy indie rock amuse-bouche.
To keep that culinary analogy going, "Endless Seafood" leads off this album's hooky hit parade that also includes the rocking "Mr Child" (the album's best riff), the chiming "Crash at Lake Placebo," and the reflective, pretty "Stops." There's more mid-tempo rock here than on their last few records, perhaps a product of the way it was made, including the carefully snarling "Abandon Ship" and the slow Cars-ish strut of "Electronic Windows To Nowhere." The album's most charming song, though, is "They Don't Play The Drums Anymore," which imagines an entirely digital realm where "They play electric lilypads on cool blue amazons" and there are "absolutely absolutely NO BONGOS! NO CONGAS!" Pollard is fighting for a world beyond -- or without -- computers (dude still uses a typewriter), even when forced to work otherwise.