Audio Mixer: Phil Mehaffey.
Recording information: Cyberteknics, Dayton, Ohio.
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. But this time, he also played all the instruments himself, not bothering with other musicians when he has the magic of multi-tracking at his disposal. Anyone who heard More Lies from the Gooseberry Bush, the truly inept 2014 album Pollard recorded under the name Teenage Guitar, has good reason to be wary of this decision. On More Lies, Pollard revealed just how clumsy he can be as an instrumentalist, but thankfully, he's stepped up his game on Please Be Honest. Admittedly, he still isn't much of a guitarist, bassist, or drummer, but on Please Be Honest, he has the good sense to keep things simple. Between the sturdy but rudimentary performances and the buzzy lo-fi audio, Please Be Honest is a dead ringer for the wobbly homemade sound of GbV's pre-Alien Lanes era. Many of these tracks sound like demos, but they have a "first thought, best thought" enthusiasm that suits Pollard's angular melodies better than excessive polish. Between the budget-priced production and Pollard's songwriting choices, Please Be Honest feels like the rough, exciting early work that made him a cult hero in the first place. (And the rough edges of the production help disguise the craggy qualities of Pollard's voice.) Paradoxically, Please Be Honest arrived as Pollard prepared to take Guided by Voices back out on the road with a lineup featuring only one other previous member of the band. (And the statement in the album's press sheet that "The only 'classic lineup' that has ever mattered is singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/band leader/magician/thunderstorm Robert Pollard" may raise the eyebrows of Tobin Sprout.) But as a celebration of GbV's core virtues, Please Be Honest really does honor the sound of the band as much as the skills of its frontman and founder. ~ Mark Deming