Release Date: Apr 22, 2016
Record label: Guided by Voices
Please Be Honest is, in all honesty, a Robert Pollard solo album. After reforming Guided by Voices' "classic line-up," which lasted between 2012 and 2014 (a period in which they released a staggering six full-lengths), Pollard has resurrected the GBV name, writing, recording and playing every instrument throughout this LP's 15 tracks. Considering Pollard frequently puts out recordings under his own name (his 22nd solo album came just a month ago), it remains curious as to what exactly makes Please Be Honest a Guided By Voices album.The answer may reside in the character of the music contained within, as Pollard has managed to release some of his most exploratory and experimental songs since his band's early '90s days.
Guided by Voices is whoever and whatever Robert Pollard decides it is. Pollard made that clear in 1997, when he fired the band's original lineup and recruited Cobra Verde to be his backing band during the recording of the album Mag Earwhig. Now Pollard has taken an even bigger step, declaring he is Guided by Voices, both literally and figuratively. As usual, he wrote and sang all the songs for 2016's Please Be Honest.
As reunions go, the second coming of Guided by Voices was a remarkably generous affair. Between 2010 and 2014, the band’s beloved "classic" lineup from the early '90s—the guys responsible for GBV’s best records (Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, etc.)—returned to release six records, including three in 2012 alone, and play for thousands of enthralled faithful. The albums were only intermittently successful, but it was still a thrill to see Robert Pollard—the band’s ageless, indefatigable leader, its one constant across decades of lineup changes—scissor-kick his way across the country, a bottle of Jose Cuervo tucked under his arm, while his old buddies wailed away behind him.
It’s hard to imagine today’s indie rock landscape without Guided By Voices. Decades before we had Bandcamp bedroom recording prodigies like Car Seat Headrest and Alex G, GBV songwriter Robert Pollard was setting the standard for lo-fi rock opuses with works like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. Since those early days, the band has had many incarnations and resurrections, most recently breaking up for the second time in 2014.
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.
The first thing to understand about Please Be Honest is that it’s a Guided By Voices record in name only, as Robert Pollard played all the instruments on this album. His explanation for releasing it under the GBV name is that it “felt like a GBV album.” It’s understandable to be a bit suspicious here, as this could just be an excuse for Pollard to release an album under the Guided By Voices moniker and attain more publicity in the process. But after listening to the album, it’s hard not to agree with him.
Regressing to points along GBV's Eighties timeline, sole mainstay Robert Pollard wrote every word and played every instrument on the Dayton-ers' 23rd LP. Following opening anthem "My Zodiac Companion," the playful melody and slinking bass of "Kid on a Ladder" evokes 1995 group high-water mark Alien Lanes. Several of PBH's 15 tracks stop short of blossoming into the hooky, soaring choruses for which GBV were revered – half bar band, half Grand Funk Railroad – but the title track won't disappoint via breezy-but-glum lo-fi.
With a sound reminiscent of their early lo-fi recordings, the latest release from Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest, finds the indie rock legend Robert Pollard in mad scientist mode once again. Pollard is responsible for all of the songwriting and instrumentation on the album. In that way he reminds that even through the breakups, reunions, and additional breakups, he has always been GBV.
On the latest addition to Guided by Voices' deliriously prolific catalogue, founder Robert Pollard plays every instrument. After a 2004 split, GBV made a 2012 comeback with their first "classic lineup" album since 1996. Two years and five albums later, they split again. With no one to rein Pollard in, Please Be Honest frequently sounds like an old man tinkering in his garage.