Guided By Voices – Doughnut for a Snowman EP (2011)

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I laughed heartily when I noticed that the music app in my iPhone listed the length for the entirety of Doughnut For A Snowman EP’s five songs as “7 minutes.” Just to re-emphasize, that’s five songs in seven minutes. I laughed at the absurdity of it: The longest here clocks in at 1:43, the shortest a mere 43 seconds. I laughed because I’d coughed up $5 to iTunes for seven minutes of music. Still, the absurdity of it was kind of worth it. If Guided By Voices is known for one thing, it’s brevity. Get in, get out, leave ’em wanting more. And sometimes leave a bit of a mess – but that’s part of the fun.

This tiny release represents the first real new music from the reunited “classic” lineup of Guided By Voices — reunited in two senses, since GBV broke up officially in 2004, but also because this is the first time this particular line up has worked together since 1996. These seven minutes, then, functioned as a teaser for the then upcoming new album from this lineup, released in early January, which precedes, in typical Robert Pollard fashion, a second album due a few months later in the spring.

In the meantime, what we get is almost classic Guided By Voices, tempered just a bit by sensibility that the band didn’t have fifteen years ago. Back then, they worked in a basement with boomboxes and cassettes, cobbling together bits and pieces of melodies into songs with a disarmingly charming, naive quality. That ramshackle nature isn’t something easily learned, but it’s something easily unlearned and lost (Pollard awkwardly shoehorns a reference to Krispy Kreme donuts into “Snowman” and stumbles through it. Something like this wouldn’t have made the cut back then, when he was sharper at being more off the cuff.) But musically they’ve retained much of that rough and tumble nature, so the title tune’s odd, slightly jarring rhythm seems perfectly natural, and recycling the song’s chintzy recorder for the next, “So High,” doesn’t seem like a cop out so much as a fitting coda. The two songs flow neatly into one another, even though they don’t make any lyrical sense together.

“Without Necks” is one of those “ideas of a song” songs that Guided By Voices pulls off, sometimes simply be sheer number. It constitutes a mere jingle, but not particularly memorable one. As kind of a goof it proves what Pollard had said long ago about every release having to have a throwaway. Yet it’s not really bad enough to consider a throwaway: It’s just a weird other side of the band. You get used to these things when you hear enough of their music and come to appreciate their place in releases as musical breathers. On their own, they’re flops. In the flow, with the rest of the music, it’s a nice little rest stop on the way to something more rewarding.

That comes in the form of Tobin Sprout’s little gem “One, Two, Three, Four,” a sweet, simple ditty that reminds listeners what was lost when this lineup broke up and Pollard reformulated the band into a more cohesive studio rock ensemble. Sprout’s contributions have always been overlooked, but they often come to mind as the George Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon (there’s really no McCartney in this band.) Like Harrison, most of his tunes didn’t immediately stand out, but looking back, it’s hard not to realize how integral his songs were to the piece as a whole and how tuneful and nice they were. Sometimes nice is just, well, nice.

Short and sweet and left us wanting more – and luckily there’s more to come. I don’t want to say “they got in, they got out,” because I don’t want to jinx the reunion. No “getting out” yet, guys.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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