Guided by Voices: Please Be Honest

Guided by Voices keep doing whatever it is they've been doing.

Guided by Voices

Please Be Honest

Label: GBV
US Release Date: 2016-04-22
UK Release Date: 2016-04-22

Guided by Voices, also known as “whoever’s available to contribute to Robert Pollard’s scattershot artistic vision,” has a new record out. That’s not surprising – GbV always seem to have a new album out, outside of their periods of hiatus that never quite seem to take. Actually, there’s not much at all surprising about Please Be Honest, and that’s the crux of its various charms and distastes.

It’s fair to say that unfinished-ness is a staple of the Guided by Voices sound. Their massive back catalogue is populated with 90-second tracks that fade out at their apex, or never quite get going, and it takes a retooling of the modern ear to appreciate this fractured album structure. Their lo-fi, fragmented approach comes off the best – or, at least, the most accessible – when there’s something else to hang onto in a track. A good melody or a hook will suffice. Please Be Honest contains a few such moments: “Kid on a Ladder” is the most hummable tune on the record; “The Caterpillar Workforce” ends with a sequence of bright chords on acoustic guitar that wink like coins of sunlight, especially up next to sludgier tracks like the following “Sad Baby Eyes”; “The Glittering Parliament” has a really nice bass line.

The rest of the record doesn’t make much of a concerted effort to grab a listener, but that isn’t the intent. Guided by Voices makes records for kids to listen to while they MacGyver a makeshift bong out of a soda bottle and duct tape on a Tuesday night, and there’s no shame in that. That’s a viable market, those kids. There’s no illusion of putting forth a statement with a GBV record, that’s never been the point. Even their more cohesive efforts – Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, for example, don’t really hang together. They’re collections of thoughts, mined for the shallowest threads of ore and discarded. That can really appeal to some people.

On Please Be Honest, we have opener “My Zodiac Companion” and the title track holding down the quota of middle-of-the-road quality. The slower, more self-sabotaging tracks like “Defeatist’s Lament” and – interminably long for a GbV track at 3:22 – “The Grasshopper Eaters” bring up the rear. The remaining tracks jockey from briefly entertaining to the aural equivalent of folding laundry, but they’re largely inoffensive. There’s not much to take away, here.

Regardless of lineup, GbV does have an aesthetic they stick to pretty closely. That can be an advantage in not alienating your audience from record to record, but here it seems more to work against them. Why should I pick up the new Guided by Voices record when I can have the exact same experience with Under the Bushes, Under the Stars? Their prolific output works the same way – I could get the new GbV but I’ll wait a few months and there’ll be another one, maybe I’ll be in the mood for it then. It’s a shame, because there are some good tracks on here, but like with any GbV record it clocks in at about 40% interesting stuff and 60% mud.

If you’re deeply invested in the Guided by Voices catalogue this record won’t disappoint you. You’re getting exactly what they’re selling. If there’s not much to the album past that point, well, that doesn’t have to matter so terribly.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.