This is the reunited Guided By Voices’ third album of 2012, in case you had lost count. Many bands struggle to release three albums in their career, never mind three in one year. Let’s Go Eat the Factory and Class Clown Spots a UFO garnered four-star reviews and amens from the the faithful. The Bears for Lunch might top them both.
From the opening track, “King Arthur the Red,” with its full-throated riffery, slam-tastic drums and even some show-offy lead guitar shredding, it’s evident that GBV Mach II may just now be hitting its stride. The progression is not dissimilar to the one the band made from Alien Lanes to its 1996 high-water mark Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, both in terms of longer, more fleshed-out songs and a semi-pro approach (so to speak) to recording fidelity.
For all the well-deserved acclaim GBV’s first two records this year have garnered, Bears is a step up in every sense. This isn’t to say there’s a whole lotta gloss going on, and certainly the album has its share of more casually considered songs, but from the relentless drum figure that fuels sure-fire-live-staple and obvious single “Hangover Child,” to the chugging, melancholic, melody-mad “White Flag,” to the propulsive, early-REM-inflected album closer “Everywhere Is Miles from Everywhere,” the 19-song, 40-minute-long Bears delivers a gut-punch as sure and assured as anything the band’s ever dished out. And that’s without mentioning the stellar contributions of Tobin Sprout (“The Corners Are Glowing” and “Waving at Airplanes” are particular standouts), bouts of unrestrained whimsy like “The Military School Dance Dismissal,” featuring what sounds like seven Pollards singing in unison / harmony over a Beatle-esque piano line, the punning wordplay of “She Lives in an Airport,” or the staggering work of heart-breaking genius “You Can Fly Anything Right.”
Add to this Pollard’s two excellent 2012 solo albums, a raft of festival appearances and Fall touring, and one might have the most consistently productive output ever in one year from a band and a songwriter already noted for its / his insanely prolific nature. That said, in a year of highlights, The Bears for Lunch may well take the most cake.