Guided By Voices
Sunfish Holy Breakfast (Matador 185)
For several years I've warily observed Guided By Voices releases with a mixture of curiosity and envy, drawn to them for their unquestionably intriguing nature (and all the hype they've received), but a bit nervous about them because they don't appear to be any better than any other lo-fi stuff out there, including stuff by peopl I know personally, which has some charm but is generally only moderately rewarding at best.
In particular I've eyed that GBV box set on numerous occasions, flabbergasted by the prospect of hearing all that lo-fi madness that was recorded when the world was not paying attention. Finally, I decided to take the plunge when I spotted the Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP at Best Buy for like $4.99 and figured I couldn't really lose even if it sucked.
I did sort of lose, although it doesn't suck. The songs are pretty good, oozing a whole lot of Who and Kinks influences, with melodic vocals and indistinguishable lyrics. Easily the best track on here is the Kim Deal-produced "Cocksoldiers and Their Postwar Stubble," which not surprisingly is the only one that sounds like a proper production.
I guess my feeling is that lo-fi 4-track stuff is great, but once you get to a certain level of success where people are actually eagerly awaiting your albums, it's not that good to just keep doing the lo-fi thing, even if that's what made your name. I suppose it puts the band in an impossible situation, since they would clearly be criticized for doing a polished album, but on the other hand you're only going to go so far with foisting your demos on the public.
I mean, if they recorded real albums then released demos separately as EPs, then maybe it would be cool. Maybe they do that; I don't know their discography deeply. But my take on this is that the songs are really well-written, and someone should tell the band that it's just lazy to release demos as an official release.
I mean, don't they want to finish the songs? Don't they think it would sound better with drums? My guess is that this EP is more rough-hewn than most of their stuff, because if all their stuff sounds like this, then I can't see why people are still paying attention. I'm all like, "Okay guys, come back when you finish the damn thing."
Sunfish contains 10 tracks clocking in at less than 25 minutes, ranging from the Kinks-ish "Jabberstroker" to the Galaxie 500-flavored "Heavy Metal Country," with a fair amount of that whiny white-rock spectrum covered in between. Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout contribute quality material to the proceedings, but it's just not all that interesting to the non-diehard.
I know that if I were a fan, I would be creaming in my jeans over this one. But to be a fan, I'd have to hear a song that means something, or even sounds like it does, something I could relate to, or even hear clearly.
I love lo-fi, don't get me wrong, I just love it when it's people you know being creative. Once you're actually on a big label, you should take care to make a real fucking album, I say.
Review by Damon Bootée