Monday, April 9, 2018

Space Gun (2018)

Space Gun
(2018, Guided by Voices Inc.)

The third studio offering from the new and improved, fully fleshed powerhouse line-up that is the re-reunited Guided by Voices!  Space Gun is further studio progression in the new life that pulsates through the ultimate band, keeping it in motion; behold the mighty Guided by Voices. Back from their possibly best sounding studio LP, How Do You Spell Heaven, the newest LP is another exercise in high kicks, and top notch production courtesy of recording engineer Travis Harrison. Harrison was also at the helm for the sonic bombast of ESP Ohio's Starting Point... along with much of August By Cake

Originally rumored to be a double LP back in its mixing stages,  Space Gun finally arrived as a compact, more cohesive 15 track record in late March 2018. Said to be the only studio LP of 2018, the ever prolific GBV seemed to be putting their money where their mouths are, doubling down on this one and done affair for 2018. And boy do they deliver! 

Also, this LP features perhaps the most un-Pollard titles ever collected on one record. I mean, check some of these titles out... "That's Good," "Blink Blank," "I Love Kangaroos"??? What a bunch of throwaway titles, but damn... such is not the case behind the meat of these songs. Backed again by Doug Gillard, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue, and Kevin March, the band's sounding younger, full of purpose, ready to go toe to toe with any naysayers or ship-jumpers.  Pollard, like the last couple records, soars in the vocal department, layering on harmonies, and high wire acts from start to finish.

A lot of blind praise often goes into the Pollard cannon, longtime fans and newcomers rightfully blown away by the  magnitude of material released by the man at the helm. With Space Gun all praise is deserved. I recall reading a review of a fan who had an early copy, stating "Every song could be a single!" In my naivety, I thought, "here we go again. Really, not one dud?" However, such a brash statement about Space Gun is not wrong. If this truly stands as the only GBV record of 2018, what a statement it is. One of the all-time great GBV recordings, and a sign that Pollard's well is not only far from dry, but perhaps flooding as we speak.

Ladies and Gentlemen, YOU ARE THE SPACE GUN!


SIDE A:
Space GunI've said it on numerous LP reviews over this site, but DAMN does Pollard know how to open a record! In fact, out of the 26 GBV LPs (yes, Tonics and Twisted Chasers counts), the opening track holds an average rating of 4.3 Hmmm, how about that useless information? This opener is no exception. Perhaps the only album in history to open with the sounds of an automatic bathroom towel dispenser, the titular track swells with hypnotic guitar stabs before catapulting the listener into the stratosphere. Huge production, gigantic airy hooks. Anthemic to no end! At over 4 minutes, the song feels repeatable and effortless. It's all so familiar, but wholly triumphant and fresh! A grand statement. 

Colonel PaperWhile the opener was a breezier epic affair, track 2 is a taught stomp rocker that nearly falls into pastiche territory. What almost teeters into the cock-rock zone thankfully doesn't. Tightly wound verses blow up into fist pounding choruses worthy of a raised beer glass. Lyrics, somewhat questionable, but from Gillard's leads to the bass plodding to Pollard's vocals, it's perfect. 

King FluteA proggier, airier feel. Sounds like it could've fit prominently on How Do You Spell Heaven. Kevin March shows off his drum fills throughout this mystic tale of a tune. Unlike some of these "deserves repeated listen" mystic Pollard tracks, this is straight and to the point, full of plenty "holy shit" vocal moments that only grow more infectious over time. To the point too!

Ark TechnicianGoddamn, this is downright gorgeous.  Takes us back to late '90s/early '00s GBV. A simple tune brought to life by the jangly guitar interplay. Wonderfully placed bridge that both offsets the song, takes a turn for the melancholy, and ends on a joyous note. A subtly beautiful tune that only gets better with ever spin. 

See My Field5 Perhaps the best production on any GBV song ever? Not overproduced, but the second single released off Space Gun is grandiose, overblown, and irresistible. Stadium ready, appropriate for a raised fist and belted singalong or two. The off-kilter stereo guitar leads are the center-piece of this driving, mini-epic. Again, the lyrics are a drag, but Pollard delivers with such conviction that who gives a damn. This song could be about Kangaroos for all I care. Oh wait, that's later. 

Liars' BoxHolding things back for a minute... Take a breath. They can't all be epics or Space Gun might kill us all. But, do not be fooled! This is one that creeps up on you. The first part of this song is a post-punk, moody plodder that could've passed as a more "GBV-like" Circus Devils' song. The hard-rock middle is average, but welcomed. The ending of "summon of a glass to a sad sad heaven," as Gillard fires off those leads... well now.  I've died and gone to heaven (how do you spell that). 

Blink Blank Post-punk as all hell. Another industrial tinged piece that could've found its way onto a late-period GBV record of the early aughts. In other hands, this may not have come to such successful fruition, but Travis Harrison's production brings this to life. Pollard's backing melody, the ice-cold rhythmic strings... far from the main-stream hit of the record but well worth the time. Forget the incredibly stupid title, "I lost an umbrella looking for you in a shit storm," is Pulitzer-worthy. 



SIDE B:
Daily Get UpsIt's said that The Strokes once threw their tape up on stage at a GBV show many moons ago. Pollard liked it and eventually The Strokes and GBV played some shows and shot a Family Feud style video together. Well, I'll be, if this isn't the Strokes' leads that got away.... Albert Hammond Jr. must be having his own stroke of excitement. But HOLY SHIT, is this where it's at. You know you've won when the well-placed-hand-claps get you smiling. Short and sweet. Poignant and full of life. 

Hudson RakeA stop-starter with late-night drinking/late-night show ballad vocals from Pollard. This feels like the curtains are about the be drawn on another day/show and out comes "Hudson Rake." The song builds into the oddly cryptic "there was a terrible accident last night. Am I Am I dead?"  Whoa! It works so wonderfully in the context it lifts this almost mundane song into near greatness. 

Sport Component NationalGuided by Voices just can't resist some sawed-in-half magician song on their record full of comprising fidelities and bit pieces. The song is mainly carried by the Monkees-esque "Getting Ready Getting Ready To RUN," vocal piece. A mid-fi Pollard moment pops in, along with a building short snippet all leading to the guitar stabbing that takes us out into one of the most grand moments in the discography. Raise the flag. Raise the glass. GBV! 

I Love KangaroosA song so fay and fragile in its pop simplicity, it's almost nauseating.  In its approach it's almost easy to miss what a great tune this is. Reminiscent of some of the Tobias produced mid-00's solo records, but with actual arresting hooks. The lyrics are so dumb, it's okay if you take a black sharpie through your lyrics sheet. But, wow!, damn if this "wimpy" prominently acoustic, child-like singalong about kangaroos doesn't get me every time. 

Grey Spat MattersThis short tune almost sneaks right the hell up on you. Clanging from guitar to drums, it's a one dimensional piece with some dry Pollard vocal delivery. Regardless, it's the perfect simplistic combination. A true example of Pollard/band/production all coming together to make a simple demo pop. And Pop is as pop does. 

That's GoodPollard's written some heart-breakers and nostalgic ballads over the years. This is one of the best. For everyone who took a steamy dump on "Hold on Hope," this could've been what he was trying to reach, and nearly did with that song. But putting comparisons on the back burner, this is an incredibly slow building tune for the times you need to play the memories back in slow motion. Need a moment for your nostalgia of nearly any moment ever lived? Check in with "That's Good." 

Flight AdvantageA straight forward tune at best. The one sour spot on the record. It's not particularly bad. It's just not particularly memorable. On top of that, Pollard adopts a vocal styling that sounds like he's on the verge of blowing chunks throughout. Were the vocals recorded while walking on a balance beam? 

Evolution CircusOne slow burner of a closer. After an immediate punch of an LPs worth of songs, "Evolution Circus" requires a bit of work. You can almost see the smoke machine going off. Kevin March brings the tom rolls as the band builds... eventually it's all bogs down into below mid-tempo plod and gray-sky-jangle before finishing up with the leg-kick worthy "get on get on get up" ending. The truest track of worthy-of-repeated listenings on the LP, and a fantastically understated close to a monumental record in the cannon. 










13 comments:

  1. Great review! You nail it. The only ratings i disagree with are the two last ones. Evolution Circus is the sour spot on the album. Flight Advantage is my favourite on side 2.

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    1. Thanks for reading and fair enough. “Evolution Circus” was one I was not into at all and then it clicked for me, but I was thinking “boy what a dud”

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  2. Sorry, Eric, but I Love Kangaroos deserves a full and unabashed 5 out of 5. Song of the year!

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  3. One could almost be forgiven for labelling this album as Pollard's attempt to re-create Do The Collapse with a more closely knit ensemble and a cosier albeit highly accomplished studio finish. Space Gun, like How Do You Spell Heaven before it, cuts the fat and keeps all those so called throwaway tracks well out of the picture. The end result is one of the musically tightest GBV albums, well ever. The results for me, however, are enjoyable enough but nowhere near enough to put this album in the realm of classic. Now I'm going to steal your rating system and rain on your parade a bit, sorry!

    Space Gun 4 - Ahhhh the open string, chiming guitar intro we've been so well acquainted with by this point. Is that a paper towel machine sampled in there? Outrageous. No doubt, this song feels classic though more in a late 80s/early 00s reanimated sense. The hooks which lurch into gear are heavy fisted but effective. 'Here it comes' bit goes on a bit long for my taste. All the same, it crescendos into an unexpected and franky heavenly instrumental section. A technicolor burst of Pollardian Joy. Not too bad.

    3 Colonel Paper Yeah who the fuck is this Colonel Paper looking for chicken inside of bins and eating cigarettes. 'Cigarette Eaaaaaater' - that's the best part of the song. The rest is rigid, stabbing riffage which doesn't amount to anything especially memorable.

    King Flute 2 - King Flute is a little man in a blue suit. And that's about as interesting as this song gets. It sounds a little bit like something from Blues For Boogie Shows but nowhere near as coherent or catchy.

    Ark Technician 5 - Well Pollard absolutely nailed it here. A deceptive grower of stunning elegance. There isn't one other ballad in the Pollard ouevre I can directly point to as being comparable in quality, originality or sheer beauty to this one. Whoa.

    See My Field 4 - Eric put forward the idea that this might be the best produced GBV track ever. I'm going to say it's the most rhythmically perfect and propulsive in the entire canon. A very solid rock song replete with stops and starts. A grower too. Not too shabby at all.

    Liar's Box 3 - Ooooooh no it's one of those slightly dour, mechanical open string Pollard riffs again. Wait.... those out of key vocals are slowly morphing into something far more interesting and melodic. Like any bunch of crap Pollard tends to put out though in fairness, it also has that much more thought and effort put into it. 'Summons of a glass to a sad, sad heaven' is a bit too far on the bathetic side for me, but undeniably pretty.

    Blink Blank 3 - Truthfully, I want to give this song zero. It's called Blink Blank for fucks sake. It also cops the most obvious psych riff I've heard old Bob use, probably ever. But it gets massive points, once again, for a superb rhythmic effort. The kaleidoscopic stabs of tightly tuned guitar riffage jumping in and out of the rock solid rhythmn is almost hypnotic.

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  4. Daily Get Ups 3 - Hmmmm. Can't really decide with this one. The riff isn't particularly interesting, but once again its driven by such a relentlessly mechanical and energetic rhythmn section that it's a lot better than it'd otherwise be. If anything it reminds me of Mid 90s Blur. Not bad.

    Hudson 3- Ahhhh here I go again to dismiss this song as another dour, churning mid-tempo Pollard tune with lots of open string chiming. It has those things but measurably restrained drum-work and some surprising structural flourishes 'There was a terrible accident last night - am I dead?' I don't love it but I still totally recognize how much better this is than so many Pollard toss offs.

    Sports Component National 4 - Outrageous broski comraderie kicks this one off. 'Get it ready get it ready to run.' Sounds like it was conceived over a lounge-room table with a case of Miller Lites. But oh, wait, there's more. A knotty but effective middle section leads to another sweeping melodious outro, which this album is beginning to make a name of itself for.

    I Love Kangaroos 3 - Soooooooo conflicted. It doesn't help that I'm from New Zealand either? I Love Kangaroos? For fucks sake. It sounds like Martin Phillips from the Chills is going to have a lawsuit for his missing track from Sunburn which has been re-appropriated with some of the goofiest, worst Pollard lyrics ever. That said, it's impossible to deny the jangly charm of this melodically great, though lyrically daft tune.

    Gray Spat Matters 4 - Well Pollard really put unprecedented effort into the song titles this time around, didn't he? What the fuck are Gray Spat Matters? Sounds like a bloated English count choking on his last hit of baccy from his pipe. The title I mean, not the song. This one almost sounds like a lost track from NiMA, only it sounds a little bit punctured, deflated. Still pretty fucking rad.

    That's Good 5 - And here is precisely why this album is entirely worthy of your time attention. Along with Ark Technician before it, Pollard unaccountably pulls one of the greatest ballads hes ever written straight from his ass. This song apologizes for all the sins that 'Hold on Hope' brought with it and wipes it clean from memory. The 'What's inside a box?' lyric almost makes me wonder if Pollard's saying goodbye. But I'll safely assume he isn't. Instead, That's Good is a mesmeric towering tune that straddles the line between bliss and despair. Ahhhh damn, so good. Awe-inspiring.

    Flight Advantage 2 - Ever heard one of those Pollard songs like 'Bombadine' where he tries to turn a slightly discordant riff into something anthemic and pretends he's Roger Daltrey? Yeah this is one of those, and not a particularly good one either.

    Evolution Circus 2 - Well bloody hell. Way to downgrade one of the most consistent albums of your career Pollard. It's those bloody chiming strings again! 'Biblical Ghettos' lyric is about the only thing I can remember about this song after hearing it twenty times. Still, hats off to this album and Space Gun. Pollard has very much still got it. Along with How Do You Spell Heaven, it makes for a very nice caper to the late period of this band's career.

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    1. James! Nice follow up. Well written and appreciate the rebuttals! On those “weirder, dour” tracks I feel you. Still think this record is incredible, and I usually pull back the veil of blind worship when it comes to a new Pollard release. I want to hear it all, but I know it can’t all be GOLD like some refuse to. Again, solid review and even the songs I LOVE and you’re lukewarm on, I totally see. That’s why we do this, that’s why we continue to listen, analyze, and love it. Nice follow-up.

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  5. Hahaha man. You are so brutal on so many Pollard traccks/albums too, which I'm totally smitten by. Let It Beard for instance, I think buries this album. But you seemed almost lukewarm on that one as a hole. Which I can understand too. Thanks for the kind words mate and absolutely love your blog!

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    1. Thanks man! Yeah “Let It Beard” is soooo many people’s fave and I still can’t get behind it like everyone else. To each his own, and why we keep listening to this goldmine of songs!

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    2. I'm the same on Let It Beard. I love the Spaceships, but its easily the least essential of the BS albums for me.

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  6. PROVE! TO! ME!
    this finite existence
    is more XX-citing
    than eternal
    Seventh-Heaven...
    and I'll gitcha
    a pitcher-O-beer
    Upstairs, bro.
    No charge.
    Im buds withe Owner.

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  7. Stumbled on this blog and can't believe the results. Happened to see the Space Gun tour and must say the live versions of these songs border on mercurial. I will not break down each song for the sake of brevity; however, the number of 4's and 5's is consistent with the review of ET. This is a record for the ages and ranks among the very best of GBV.

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