You could argue that Guided By Voices is largely responsible for today’s lo-fi revival, or at least that Robert Pollard and company planted the seed in lots of kids’ heads. And now, when recording a record at home is as easy as making a bowl of cereal, anyone with a tune in his or her head and a laptop can create a supposed masterpiece. The thing is that many bands lack the ability to write the catchy hooks that Mr. Pollard seemed to think up every time he took a dump. Instead, Wavves and Vivian Girls make popular but questionable minimal punk rock and noisy mush that was probably as easy to write as it sounds. Fortunately, every now and then a Digital Leather rears its head.
The snotty, irascible Jay Reatard manages the group, which has surely given it a healthy dose of PR and blog rocket fuel. But it’s mostly deserved. Shawn Foree is the driving force behind the music. From his singing voice to his song construction, GBV’s fingerprints are evident, but so are those of The Cure, The Pixies, and years of DIY tradition. He somehow manages to combine all of these influences into something enjoyably propulsive and creative, finding his own voice amidst the ghosts of many others. Take the pensive “Not Now,” a creepy dirge with synth and effected guitar, during which Foree explains that he feels like he’s “in a pornographic soap opera.” Just prior to this, the driving “Modern Castles” joins new wave, fuzzed-out chords with a storyteller’s penchant for narrative lyrics. There are moments of experimental meandering, as indicated by the intro of “Bugs on Glue,” but it’s not long before the song breaks into fast-paced synth-punk. Foree just can’t help himself.
Thank God for that. If you’re gonna make a record, especially a lo-fi, experimental, bashed-out-in-your-bedroom-sounding record, you gotta have at least a semblance of the ability to make music people are actually gonna want to listen to and not just say they want to listen to. And in that, Digital Leather has undoubtedly succeeded.