Saturday, January 30, 2021

THE CLUB IS OPEN... An Introduction

WELCOME to An Earful 'O Wax, the Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard; Song Documentation Database. Here, I attempt to provide a write-up accompanied by a numerical review (for what it's worth) of every song written, performed, or related to one of rock's most prolific songwriters; Robert Pollard.

If you have found yourself on this site, you probably know a bit of the story and history of the Dayton, OH band. If not, welcome! May this be your newest haven for a crash-course in the subject, and hopefully this can aid in your quest for the perfect mix tape.

This idea to delve into this project came to be in early 2012 while talking with a friend about the intricacies of the myriad of Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard LPs, EPs, side-projects, box-sets, 7'' singles, official bootlegs, and compilation tracks. I know as a true GBV fanatic, this conversation happens often. So I decided it was time to make my madness somewhat concrete!

The original sole purpose came about when I decided to try to log a rating to some of the more obscure Pollard related songs in my library for my own reference. How could I forget how good "I Am Decided" was off the top of my head? How was it that the closer, "Blue Shadow," off Pollard's side-project Keene Brothers' LP escaped my memory when thinking about the breadth of the catalog? Official documentation began to accumulate over a few months, and only grew from there. Once the wheels started turning, I found it increasingly difficult to operate the brakes. The determination to review every Robert Pollard related song was in full swing, scribbled in notebooks and sporadically typed out.

What presents itself on this site is just that; my quest to track down, consume (multiple times), and review (if only briefly), every song that came out of Dayton, OH's pop-psych mastermind, Robert Pollard. It's been a rough and bumpy road over many beers, research, and late night phone calls to friends on the matter.

SO, how do you read this and what is it? 
First off, every Robert Pollard related band/solo outing/side-project is divided into headers at the top of the page for quick reference.

The set-up of the free space does not provide for ample scroll-down-and-enjoy reading. I encourage all to click on the links above to track down each LP, EP, 7", and compilation to find said song, or to simply browse the nature of each beast.

Also, each LP is accompanied by a brief to somewhat-extended introduction into the release, garnished with facts and opinions. Treat them  as a short review. Treat them as garbage. Do as you will.

What is included?
Any and all Robert Pollard related material is included for mention and review on this site. That is, every Guided by Voices, Pollard solo outing, Pollard solo collaborations, or side-project. Several side-project bands are listed above in the same tab due to restrictions here, not importance, or lack thereof.

There are still plenty of off-shoots of the Pollard/GBV family tree; Tobin Sprout solo material, Doug Gillard solo LPs, Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, fig. 4, Terrifying Experience, etc. While many of those releases are definitely worth tracking down, (especially Tobin Sprout's frequent and brilliant outings) I have not obtained all at this time.

Also, not EVERY single record is listed on this site. Some singles and box sets simply contained songs that had previously been released. I included each record, in which each song made its earliest appearance. If you'd like a complete discography of everything GBV related, check HERE.

In addition, there are a plethora of bootleg releases with alternate titles to track that were eventually released on the Suitcase box-sets. Also, there are seemingly endless unreleased instrumental outtakes, alternate bootleg takes, internet released demos, and unreleased live cover songs that have not been included. In time, they might see the light of day. Such is the case with Pollard's TWO "comedy" LPs of spoken word, Relaxation of the Asshole and Meet the King: Asshole 2. I've got 'em, just don't know where they fit in this puzzle, but maybe one day.

Additionally, as long as I breathe and maintain functional hearing, new releases will continue to be updated in the future. Please check back.

The ratings assigned numerically differs, in context, for each band.

It should go without saying, but a Guided by Voices perfect song rating does not always reflect the same as, say, a great Circus Devils song, decent Acid Ranch, etc. Two different recipes, two different results.

Also, it's a 1 to 5 system. Don't have a stroke that something didn't get 10.

And finally, LET IT BE KNOWN!:
It should go without saying that I am a fan. Not to dive too deep into the sappy end of the pool, Robert Pollard has been an even more enormous influence on me than I can really every say. Who else would do such an arguably stupid thing if not a fan? Nevertheless, what lies ahead may offend, enlighten, educate and shock some as I have given reviews to songs that some hold deep in the ribcage; wedding songs, the break-up tune, the perfect song for a funeral, your favorite drinking singalong melody, etc. So please know that every bad review still comes from a place that still gives even the slightest wink of admiration, and I mean no offense to the fellow listener in the following reviews of everything, and encourage an open discussion about said topics. Such is the way of the world, and shouldn't need mentioning. But it bares repeating when dealing with something as sacred to so many.

May Pollard continue to write, record, release. The army of the shambolic have spoken and, sorry mainstream press, he does NOT need an editor. What we want is what we get, and so forth.  And for the casual, or beginner, may this be both a guide and valuable lesson.  As Pollard has said, he relies on his Four "P's"; pop, punk, psych, and prog (which will be referenced throughout the site), in his song writing. May the best of those styles continue to rain down, for better or worse. One man's "Gold Star For Robot Boy" is another man's "I Can't Freeze Anymore" and vice versa. But hopefully you get the picture.  Read on, enjoy, and detest if you must. But remember, "Life is short, GBV is long."*

Additional thanks to the project goes to the following:  Jeff at Guided by Voices Database (, for his his helpful correspondence and for his stellar website of meticulous fanboy info. Kevin Oliver, for guiding me through a cerebral discussion of Suitcase 2 and its inconsistencies back in the day. Fid, for his enthusiasm, tri-state brotherly support, and providing me with a couple of hard-to-find GBV releases on loan while I was dead broke. Christopher Thomas Brown for talking GBV with me at length and for kind of kick starting this whole idea. And to K. Gogan, my best friend for encouraging me to finish and for helping edit a portion of this mess.

*- gbv

**all photos taken from the fabulous world of google search. If you have a problem with a photo being up here, say the word and I'll take it down. I honestly don't know how to credit you!

***background collage by Robert Pollard, entitled "Brought To You by Real Nice Scientist" 

Heaven Beats Iowa EP (2021)

 Heaven Beats Iowa

(2021, Guided by Voices Inc.)

Originally, word that a project under the name Cub Scout Bowling Pins was casually dropped in a rare Pollard interview a few months prior to the release of GBV's Styles We Paid For. A few weeks later, a sneak peak track popped up in the GBV weekly steaming service, Hot Freaks

Following that, a few weeks of Cub Scout Bowling Pins radio-silence followed. Without warning, early one January day, the pre-orders were up on Rockathon Records, less than a month after SWPF's street release date. 

The 6 song 12 minute EP is a GBV collaboration consisting of the current line-up, seemingly pieced together by regular engineer Travis Harrison from what feels like a variety of different recording contributions by the band. This weirdo pop friendly quickie of a release is a much welcomed surprise in an already, and prolific-even-for-Pollard pool of recent GBV LPs over the past few years. 

Limited to 1000 CDs and blue 7''s, respectively. 

Hobson's Beef3 A solid amalgamation of the pop meets rock aspect that runs through each track on the EP. This opener finds Pollard dipping in and out of tune with varying levels of tape hiss in the mix. Hooky, optimistic guitar lines carry this over drum stomp. Feels like the most patched together, if not progressive of the tracks on the EP. 

Gear Balloon Mouse Trap- A melding of vintage early '90s Pollard crashing head on with Universal Truths... era GBV. A minute and a half crooner that calls back some nostalgia. Benefits from its brevity; a short one that packs an emotionally gratifying wallop.

Moon Camera- A shadowy prog pop number bolstered by some marimba type backing. A creeping indie rock mystery that's subtly great. A 2 minute track that continues to surprise with each revisit.

School School-  What a complete glorious mess. A melancholy, yet fist pumping guitar jangle punk pop anthem in just over a hair of a minute. The lyrics are complete repetitive nonsense, but delivered with a conviction that only adds to the power of this revelatory song.

Funnel Cake Museum- After nearly a minute of airy breathable intro noise, this one takes a hard left into standard guitar stunted mid-tempo rocker. Feels like a Warp and Woof bonus track. No great shakes, but a wholly familiar, digestible nugget.  

Heaven Beats Iowa- 5 Released as a preview single track online before release, this closer holds the distinction of being an infectious number that you recognize as a good song, that only gets better with each listen. It sticks with you, that nearly annoying but necessary melody from the organ. Pollard sounds like he's got honey in his voice singing the ending. Keeps you flipping the record over for more. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Styles We Paid For (2020)

 Styles We Paid For

(2020, Guided by Voices Inc.) 

2020 saw the world come to a near halt. Daily life uprooted, people adjusting to the much repeated phrase of “the new normal." The year started with a blow to the record industry, as Apollo Masters in Los Angeles burned to the ground, destroying the largest supplier of vinyl lacquer plates in the world. It seemed as if the future of record pressing was in peril as the industry scrambled to make changes to long outdated practices. A month later, the story was nearly forgotten by some of the most indebted music fans and collectors. Soon, it wasn’t just the fact that records were endangered. Record stores,music venues, daily life shut down as sickness took precedent around the globe.


In all of the talk of the new norm of the year, blow after blow, one thing remained alarmingly consistent. Yes, if there were any doubts at the impact the events of the year might have on GBV, Pollard and the most formidable lineup assembled to date made sure to squash all fears. It was business as usual by way of Dayton. 


With their third LP of the year, GBV was able to match 2019's LP output, appeasing everyone in a time of upheaval. According to Pollard, Styles We Paid For's traditional boombox demos were finished at the tail end of February before being sent to the band to flesh out. Originally, Pollard envisioned the LP as an all analog record with the title Before Computers in mind. Whether true of not, the record saw completion at the hands of trusted engineer Travis Harrison, piecing the LP together from 5 different states digitally. So much for the analog idea.


With its December release, Styles We Paid For is a remarkably consistent album, fit for a year end ease into the winter. It's a record a 15 song LP that comes in at under 40 minutes but feels like it takes its time to grow and expand at every turn. Containing no throwaway tracks, it never rushes for attention.  From the ‘70s callback of the cut-and-paste models on the cover, to the tone of the entire record, it’s a great companion piece to watching your breath during a long car ride in the middle of a winter sky, or bundling up on the Barcalounger in a wood paneled basement. While most of the tracks are not as immediate as some on the previously released Mirrored Aztec, it’s a consistently strong sonic grower, full of buried hooks and earworm riffs, best listened to in its entirety.


GBV once again proves they are an everlasting force to be reckoned with.


Megaphone Riley- In his openers, Pollard once seemed a creature of habit. Often, they sounded and contended as flat out hits, always feeling like most GBV LPs came out with a bang. However, since Zeppelin Over China, it’s felt more of an exercise to set the tone of the record. Such is the case with “Megaphone Riley.” Like the LP itself, this one crackles on the wick. A reserved chug building until the band bursts like a underground gas line at max pressure. A moment of bombastic triumph shakes you to the point of revelatory celebration, before the song leads out. A lot to ponder for seemingly little payoff, but one that has the power to call you back continuously... setting the tone of the record if you'll let it in. 

They Don't Play Drums Anymore- Originally released as a “demo” on Pollard’s solo Planet Cake collection earlier in 2020, this is the full band go round. It’s a dim, heavy handed plodder that has more in common with stoner rock than any summery jangle pop you might be looking for. A real grinder of a gray-skies-overhead track that’s oddly infectious over time, but slightly detracted from by the lyrics. Did we really need “beating their puds, staring at their screen savers” in the pantheon of GBV songs?

Slaughterhouse- Certain to be a divisive track, “Slaughterhouse” goes against all perceived GBV ethos. At 4 and a half minutes, and tacked to the front end of an LP, it has the power to stall an already groggy record in its place if you let it. However, more so than the proceeding track, this one is even slower in its plod, heavier in its grind, equal parts simplistic sinister yet joyous in the resonating lead notes. A wonderful combination of powers, the current lineup coming together to make a potential drag-ass of a track into a hulking, spaced out head nodding shoegazer.

Endless Sea Food- 3 For the first time on this record, GBV present something lighter in tone. The first breath of fresh air, cracking the window a tad to try to let in some spring air. In fact, the whole song is downright "airy." The guitars are crisp, the distortion is dialed back to almost naught, Pollard's vocals lean. Sounding somewhat like a mid-00s Pollard solo track, it’s a bright inclusion that sees us out with heavy handed symphonic outro. 

Mr. Child- One of the internet sneak peak tracks of the LP, “Mr. Child” rides on its impactful snotty lead riff. The song rolls along at mid-tempo, holding it all together with said guitar leads. By its triumphant end, it’s an all out cause for celebration, Pollard bellowing in high form. 

Stops- 3 Could have been a lost Moses on a Snail track. So much density in this one, Pollard sounding like he's singing into a cold winter's night air. The band appears distant in the background at times. A real slow, beautiful mover. A 2 minute near ballad that stands as a gap track of sorts in the thick of things. Sticks the least, but revisits make it feel like you have a temporary home here. 

War Of The Devils- 4 Leave it to a song with "Devils" in the title to conjure up the most Circus Devils' memories of the LP. A multifaceted mystic prog rocker that brings to mind "Steppenwolf Mausoleum" before disintegrating into sonic breakneck guitar ping-ponging and eventual aural implosion. 


Electronic Windows To Nowhere- 5 Holy autotuned hell! For a record originally called Before Computers this song reeks of digital cosmetics. It's also a part of what makes it so irresistibly odd. What happens when you plug a GBV formula into your hard drive and let the motherboard produce the results? This stands as almost annoyingly catchy. But it's one that sicks to your brain like bubble gum on hot summer's tar. It's inviting, simple. A revelatory ray of sunshine to open up the second side. 

Never Abandon Ship- 4 Continuing with the brown and gray tone of Side A, another serious mid-tempo song that relies on the warmth of its guitar lines and affecting doubled Pollard vocals. This song feels both isolating and wholly communal simultaneously. 

Roll Me To Heaven- 3 A rather drab tom pounder of a song takes us through a short but meandering first section before breaking through the clouds and into some sort of heavenly field of view, and back again. A spaced out stoner series of vignettes recalling the feel of a How Do You Spell Heaven song that never was. 

In Calculous Stratagem- 5 Short, almost to be missed, but a thing of beauty. This has a way of catching your attention upon first listen if tuned in. But each subsequent listen drives its allure deeper until you realize you've fallen in love with this new GBV gem with traces of REM magic. Perhaps the most oddly singable song title, this song has the ability to wrap its arms around you if only for a brief boozy 2 minutes. 

Crash At Lake Placebo- 5 Teeters on the edge of sounding like a goofy folk song with its repetitive guitar line, Pollard singing in time with the infectious groove. Carried forth with an arresting minute long instrumental bridge in a surprising turn. Pollard comes back in as the band crescendos upward with double vocal tracked finesse to cement this one in your bones. 

Liquid Kid- A prog affair that takes a while to get off the ground, stuttering along for a minute before kicking into standard mid-tempo rock... at 2 minutes the song shifts toward the building finale setting you up for more symphonic fist raising, accented with Gillard solo flairs, and Pollard hooks to lead us out. A bit of too little too late, but enough to keep you coming back.

Time Without Looking- 5 Absolutely fucking gorgeous. A scrapbook of memories if you should allow such a brief song to do so. With such an appropriate title, the guitar jangle and syrupy doubled vocals begs for you to flail for buried nostalgia and immediate reflection at just over a minute and a half. 

When Growing Was Simple- 4 After the previous reaffirming life track, we're left in the cold with a pensive "this is your life" snapshot for further contemplation. The toms echo coldly in the background as if a lone mic picked them up in an abandoned warehouse. A singular guitar lines carries this with chiming cacophony striking us back to attention, Pollard sounding somewhat frail with his vulnerable vocals pushed to the front. A haunting finish but with and underlying feeling of hope. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Bad Side of the Coin (2020)

 Bad Side of the Coin

(2020, Shit and Shit Records) 

Talk about wearing out your fucking welcome. Cash Rivers is like that actual drunk uncle that came to stay for the holiday weekend and is still sleeping on your couch in mid March. You keep kicking his feet off the cushions and telling him it's the last night, but he keeps showing up with shiny gifts of cheap plastic and empty promises of leaving "soon". In other words, I can not believe I am sitting here again writing this sentence... "This is the final Cash Rivers LP" God, 2020 sucks. 

What began as a surprise limited 17 "song" joke 7'' in 2017 has now spanned a 3 year haul of endless blue humor and bar room tidbits about panties, truck driving, overweight women, cell phones getting wet, obscure slang, and everything else in between. In all of this madness, these limited Pollard comedy country records have turned into some of the hardest to find on the secondary market due to their limited pressings. 

But before I disown the entire fictional world of Cash Rivers, when all is said and done, the impressive 69 track Do Not Try To Adjust Your Set I Am The Horizontal and the Vertical remains as a dizzying accomplishment in Pollard's vast catalog; a record that hurdles past bad taste and fart jokes and should be held in its mysterious own regard as some one of a kind, gold standard psych splatter of nightmare inducing humor. 

The rest of the Cash Rivers output though has been endlessly ho-hum, good for a spin or two and then left to rot. The newest, and again purported LAST (we shall see...) installment pretty much picks up were Loose Shoes left off (mostly quick snippets, some with little to no thought, and decent backing by the boys of GBV). What the point of dropping another one of these during GBVs prolific 2020 run leaves me scratching my skull from the inside out?

Perhaps what hurts most about this limited to 1000 on 3D coin shaped cover is the $40 price tag slapped upon it. My philanthropic spirit hopes that this was some sort of added payment to the band for missing out on playing GBV shows during this pandemic affected year. Whatever the case, it sold out from Rockathon Records in less than 24 hours, proving that Cash may never die.  


Do It Real Good- Acoustic strumming with drunk scatting and growling. It is not good.

Whatever We Give You (Is What You Get)- Yes, indeed. Whatever you give us. And here are again. Electro Bonnie Rait. Has a nice Travis Harrison crunch, but damn this one's devoid of a joke.

The Purple Hair- Another song that forgets to insert any sort of joke, and goes on over  2 minutes with otherwise standard country rock backing. 

Breaking Her In For You- A surprisingly Byrds-esque jangle pop song with Pollard sounding golden voiced like some Bee Thousand era b-side. A goddamn pleasant early gift, and damn good song!

She's Smoking Crack In the Synthesizer Room- Feels like Circus Devils are back. A one trick idea of a title repeated over some synth swells. Fairly cool song in its own right. 

Pango Bye Bye Juice- Country hopping with nonsensical word play that's on par with infant babbling. Make it stop. 

Hard Living Little Liver- 1 More country hopping nonsense

Tindall Tables- 1 Sounds like a Pollardian take on The Residents. I don't get it. 

She Grows Me Out- 1 Motorcycle video game rock as Pollard repeats the title over sterile honky hard rock. 

To The Waistband- "Shit stains to the waistband." Yes, I guess sometimes that could happen in life? Almost chuckled so I'll give this one an extra point and make mental note of the song's "greatness."

Sugar Boogey Baby- Nice homage to Bob Dylan's "You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine." Musically, it's the same track on helium. Pollard sings like he's got his lips around the ol' helium tank a bit as well. And then it's over. 

Sir Wackinoff- 1 An ode to getting caught masturbating. Minor kudos to the rooster noises. 

Run With It- This could possibly, almost, just sorta be a Pollard demo with it's slurred lyrics, reverberating vocals, and piano. For that it almost sounds like a "classic" here. 

Eggs Make Me Sick- Originally from The Takeovers' Turn To Red LP. For whatever reason, this isn't credited on the LP as being written by Pollard. This song was ridiculous then although I sing it about once a week. So its nice to take a trip down memory lane with Cash Rivers in 2020 here, I guess? 

Baby Let Me Buy You Lunch- The first single by Quick Hotdog? oh fuck, please don't tell me there's another comedy record coming anytime soon. My wallet has run dry. Also, this single is number 1 with a bullet (between my eyes).

Evil Mustard- 1 Like waking up with a drunk dude whispering in your ear about that goddamned evil mustard again. 

Baby's Takin' a Shit- 1 Been down this fuckin' road before. 


Kicker of Elves-2 Thankfully I get to turn the record over and hit with one of the lesser classics from Bee Thousand. A lounge act, after hours version with cut and pasted Pollard by way of Cash jazz delivery. A new take on a gone but not forgotten tune that no one asked for. 

Struggling Wizards Juggling Lizards- 2 Sounds like a classic GBV progression over repeated song title. 

Computerized Eyes- 3 Synth driven new wave that actually sounds refreshing amongst this dung pile. Dig the backing music (would welcome side project one off in this style), oddly catch. Other than that, it's mostly wishful thinking I never knew I had until now...

Rip- 1 More video game rock n roll with Pollard cutting in doing a machine gun-like delivery. More kudos to rooster crowing in the background. 

Too Drunk For Facebook- 3 Song sounds exactly like the title and (un)fortunately catchy. 

23 Days Before Christmas- Pollard cementing a new holiday classic into his catalog. Appreciate the Surrender Your Poppy Field cut in there of "20!" 

19 Push Ups- A sweat soaked nightmare that's almost too good to be true. Sort of dig the creep factor present in the grooves here. 

Stipened Mills- Pollard getting to revisit his REM sound that's been so sourly missed since the days of Sandbox and Forever Since Breakfast while delivering piss poor pun. 

Sucker Punch- 1 So forgettable I almost forgot to listen. 

Chico and the Man- 1 Pointless Jose Feliciano "cover." 

My Angel- One of my favorites off Warp and Woof gets the Cash Rivers treatment. Essentially, a decent rendition in the easy listening sense with wonky noises and Pollard dipping into Mark E. Smith phlegm coated vocals in the middle and outro.  

Googling Pam- Uplifting sounding nonsense that nearly feels like a real song. 

Poor Mrs. Blankenship- Pollard throwing some yucks at GBV super fan Trader Vic's mother. Oh boy, he done got them Blankenships good. 

Aunt Ethel- 1 More fucking nonsense. 

Grandma Got Ta Ta Too- 1 Wait... No, THIS is more fucking nonsense. Why is this song so fucking long?

Them Other Too- 2 Dig this barebones garage stomp. The "lyric" line is pointless. 

Call the Dog- 2 Reminiscent of a grunge tune one might find on the radio circa '94-95, amounting to a song that's almost listenable for the fact that it's nearly a real song.

The Best Day Ever- Fucking great title being that this record is finally fucking ending after 35 more brain pissing tracks. And holy shit, yeah, this track sounds like fucking "Echos Myron" compared to the rest of this record. 

Cash Rivers.... please stay down for the fucking count. I don't need anymore Jason Voorhees getting stuck by lighting and rising from a grave moments in my record collection in the upcoming years. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Mirrored Aztec (2020)

       Mirrored Aztec

(2020, Guided by Voices Inc.)

When Pollard resurrected the name Guided by Voices in 2016 for his essentially solo effort Please Be Honest, I was skeptical. GBV had always been the moniker for the Uncle Bob goods, or at least, the guise of a fully fledged band. Pollard playing all the instruments himself and calling it GBV just didn't feel legitimate (this judged on a guy's merits who has a universe of fake band names cataloged in his brain, and more actual LP artwork from said fake bands in boxes in his basement). 

But thankfully, dusting off the GBV name brought us an actual band. And what a band it has been. With each LP, through warts and all, this solidified lineup of Kevin March, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue, and Doug Gillard continue to churn out the usual Pollard pace at a remarkably high standard. This is also largely thanks in part to unspoken 6th member, engineer and live sound man Travis Harrison giving this era of GBV its own unique stadium sound at the everyman American lager consumed club level. 

Enter August 2020, and it's not the first time we've seen GBV during this tumultuous year. While in the can well before 2020,  February's Surrender Your Poppy Field both in moment and hindsight felt much like a product of the times. Released during the gloom of winter, the LP opens with Sara Zade-Pollard declaring "the high today is 20!," before spilling into an anarchic patchwork of cut and paste style rock songs of every conceivable style. Pollard sings "and now it's because of you, you got me thinking Rock and Roll won't always be around," as Covid-19 became reality, shutting down clubs, record stores, bars, society. "Woah Nelly" felt like a late album reminder of the eeriness that was the norm instead of a rehashed b-side. The un-GBV like dirge "Next Sea Level" felt like we were all left in the balance with no life raft; a country divided, a planet melting, directions to "shelter in place," from sea to sea, while some continue to scream to ignore it all.  

It's with all this in mind that GBVs 2nd LP of 2020 (of the proposed 3) couldn't have come at a better time. Hitting just before Labor Day, it's a stark end cap to the season. From its eye popping artwork (Pollard handing off his usual visual duties to artist Courtney Latta) to its lighter tone, the record feels like a proper brighter horizons GBV check-in in the middle of unbalanced uncertainty. A tightly packed collection of pop hooks and guitar wallop from Gillard and Bare, the band adds another bright spot in what is now clearly the greatest era of a "band" in their 34th year of recording. Mirrored Aztec makes a strong case as being a top tier contender in this renaissance period that thankfully appears to have no end in sight. 

With everything up in the air, it's another reminder that there is one constant you can continue to count on. 

Life is short, GBV is long. 

I Think I Had It. I Think I Have It Again- 3 Pollard, the king of opening tracks, takes his time here with a song that shines but not too brightly. In a measured attack, this opener is a mid-tempo tune that plants an earworm or two but doesn't steal the show. The opening guitar strums provoke the feeling of waking up to brush the early morning dew out of your eyes.  A quick rock-edging-out-sheer-pop tune; one with a solid backbone, setting up a record and a first side of showstoppers. 

Bunco Men- If you are a GBV nut then you might think this song sounds familiar, and yes, you'd be correct as the original appeared on the first Suitcase boxset. An outtake from UTBUTS (as the lyrics slyly suggest), this is a lost classic that got away. Here, in full band rendition, this song pops as a melancholy anthem with underlying hope. Pollard makes the slightly off-kilter hooks shine under big band production, resurrecting this old gem once left to wallow in obscurity. 

Citizens' Blitz- 5 When GBV nails that particular sweet spot of the post-punk slant, they usually hit it straight on. Angular, jarring, and cloaked in an industrial sport coat as it takes the dance floor. Similar in feel to "Sleepover Jack" off Half Smiles of the Decomposed, this may be an acquired taste track to some. Regardless, the song's really brought to life by Harrison's production. Pollard's hallucinatory bending vocals are fantastic in this oddly catchy winner. 

To Keep An Area- 5 "To Keep an Area" is such an easy shoe-in for classic GBV song that it seems unfair. It's basically anything a college kid with an acoustic guitar can come up with in the quad on a sunny day, but it's flaunted and catapulted into the stratosphere of heartstrings here. The slight off tempo endings to the verses, Gillard's emotive guitar bridge leads, and Pollard's incredible finish make this a returnable track of sheer unfettered warmth.

Easier Not Charming- Following "To Keep an Area," this is perhaps the best 1-2 punch on the record. And all at just a shade under a minute and half! Feeling like an Earthquake Glue/UTAC style pop nugget, the verses shift into infectiously simplistic mini choruses. It's the kind of pop song you don't realize has sunk its teeth into you and continues to bite until you find yourself humming, whistling, reminiscing at unexpected times during your daily routine. 

Please Don't Be Honest- 4 Kevin March and Gillard work out a jittery main opening as Pollard drops a perfectly droll lyric "Skeleton. Stick figure of myself." This song may be a skeletal pieced together demo (as further revealed in the Hot Freaks weekly releases) that was well deservedly beefed up by the band. Another wonder piece of Harrison and the GBV guys patchwork. It feels like the prize that got away from Surrender Your Poppy Field. The bridge sticks out like a sore thumb of pure gold. 

Show Of Hands- On its own, this song is such a grand sweep; a powerful statement written too late to be a hit off Zeppelin Over China. Pollard is forcefully declarative here with the band hoisting him up on their proverbial shoulders. It almost does a disservice in sequencing being behind the equally as good, somewhat similar in feel (at least the former's bridge) to "Please Don't Be Honest." A layered pieced together type track that is a sneak attack on the senses, leaving you dizzied with crescendoing outro for the ages! 

Lip Curlers- The first true filler track of the LP, "Lip Curlers" has the misfortune of following a streamroller of hits. This feels like a Tobias-era Pollard solo cut with cloying hooks in the strike-a-rock-stance choruses. Lines and toe tapping continue to invade my thoughts to slight amusement at random moments. 

Math Rock- 3 Leave it to Robert Pollard to write a math rock-esque song (although not post-punk enough for the math rock I mainly enjoy, as I adjust my math rock lapels), that supposedly "drives[s] Doug crazy." This song is as fun as it ridiculous. The idea for this sounds almost as if it'd be a drunken late night phone call to the band, or a demo sent out that left the band scratching their heads over how drunk Bob actually was that night?  Essentially, the Kevin March conducted Montclair School of Rock (Hell yes! New Jersey!) kids chorus' saves this with a grounded ending. 

Transfusion- 4 A slow drip rock song as the title implies, this is a (SLOW) leak from a sapling tree in a dying forest (hey, "dying worlds make Dinosaur bones"). This is about as close to doom rock as Pollard can get. Lumbering but joyously hypnotic opener to the second side that pumps the brakes on a killer opening side. Grows with repeated listens. The type of track that just hits in the right spot after you let it take its hold. 

Biker's Nest- 3 Like "Lip Curlers," this one may be the actual filler track of the LP. Feeling like a leftover demo from Circus Devils' Stomping Grounds LP, this is a guitar chug along that really goes nowhere. Except, I find myself quite enamored with the actual guitar chug of this song! Pollard's single tracked vocals don't lend any service to this rather hookless effort, but it's a fine run-of-the-mill song to pull out of one's backpocket in a pinch. 

A Whale Is Top Notch- 4 A simplistic riff riding, blip of anthemic pop bliss on side B. A sneak attack of fist pumping and hard swings for a rambunctiously short time. At just over a minute, GBV delivers an infectious piece that's easy to miss. A quintessential gap track that's worthy of a stiff finger point of acceptance on its own. 

I Touch Down- 2 Speaking of gap track, this stands as the official dud of the LP. The only purpose I can see of this song in sequencing is the closing track references "touch down" several times? It has its hypnotic qualities that become more appealing with repeated listens but still...  Other than that, it is a rather quick but murky track that drags you through the muck before making a wonderful transition into... 

Haircut Sphinx-  A completely barebones garage rocker, this song harkens back to old school GBV mentality of a "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows" type; here's a riff that could be metallic in style, drums that stomp about, and vocals carrying it with some cocksure sense of direction despite how nonsensical they may seem. 

Screaming The Night Away- A meandering late LP track that feels like more of a filler gap track than an actual winner. Is Pollard growing tired here, unleashing a simple rhyme to be reckoned with over guitar pummel? Either way, it's a sturdy quick albeit lifeless punch near the end of the record. If only there's was something to pump a little life back into this record... 

Thank You Jane- 5 Where in the holy goddamn did this late LP surprise come from? A spiny guitar lead mid-tempo track that feels like straight breaking sunshine coming through closed blinds on an already decided clouded day. Reportedly a shout-out to actress and activist Jane Fonda, a great Pollard tip of the cap to someone who should keep inspiring us, as he says "I think the time is now for us to all step up, I think we know" (and don't forget to keep "working out"). This winner bleeds into... 

The Best Foot Forwards- ... before you know it you're already drowning in Kevin March's drum roll filled assault as this quick penultimate track sucks you under. A brief, blunt track that goes for the jugular more on guitar riffs than vocal hooks. A perfect quick set up to the afterparty of an LP finale.

The Party Rages On- While you're still catching your breath from the all out band attack jumble of "The Best Foot Forwards" you're escorted into the short after party where you may have time to grab a glass of flat champagne. More of a slow walk of reflection and "farewell and thanks for the memories" trot than a "raging party" stampede.  A perfect nightcap for this mid-year GBV LP, Gillard's fiery solo sparking up and fading out just over the 2 minute mark... "We'll see you later this year," it seems to call. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Planet Cake 7" (2020)

Planet Cake 7" 

   (2020, Guided by Voices Inc)

The second EAT installment in Robert Pollard's solo catalog, here is another collection of "never needed to be released, but happy to have another 7" on my shelf" record from the master. Like it's predecessor, Eat 15's (Dislodge) The Immortal Orangemen 7" this finds Pollard alone on his boombox, hammering out musical accompanying pieces to his collage work in the beautiful layout of his literary book, Eat 16

To be owned for the 237 pages of artwork WAY more than the record, I'll take another piece of Pollard wax for the turntable. Unfortunately, it's another non-essential piece of collector fun that keeps the diehards, myself included, foaming at the mouth. Oh to have another Pollard solo LP one day...

Limited to 1000 copies.


Strange Angels- Here, Pollard fumbles around with a couple of strings before going off into a down stroking rumble on a detuned chord (string?) while speak singing. 

They Don't Play the Drums Anymore- Hey, is that some drumming on the acoustic guitar I hear? Pollard expands his horizons. This actually has a fairly strong melodic Pollardian bellow to it. Hey, sign me up.

Good Luck To Ya Mutha- 1 Nothing to see here folks. Pollard thinks it up while being recorded. On to the next side. 


When Growing Was Simple- 3 A variation of "A Salty Salute"? The one's a haunter. Feeling like it might have some purpose at first, it eventually goes off into stream of conscious with some pretty decent surrealist lyrics. 

Game Cocks- 2 The poppiest of the tunes here, it's features some trademark uncle Bob scatting at the end. 

Blogs on Toadstools- Spoken word piece ending with warbled voiced Pollard sounding almost prophetic. Being that he's released not 1 but 2 comedy records, I'd buy a spoken word/poetry LP from him at this point.  

Bonus Track- Pollard fiddles around with a toy flute/recorder for about 10 seconds. Not a song, even a little bit but so be it. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Surrender Your Poppy Field (2020)

Surrender Your Poppy Field
(2020, Guided by Voices Inc.)

Robert Pollard is well known in his circle of fans as the King of the 4 P’s. Whether by pop hooks, punk ethos, psych spirit, or prog leanings, Pollard has made a career by careening from style to style, ingesting the entire history of rock, and redistributing to the world through his own eyes. It’s with his vast knowledge and appreciation of the subject that makes his own output so tantalizingly kaleidoscopic. With this in mind, we find Pollard and his refreshed band of brothers taking broad strokes on the open canvas that is Surrender Your Poppy Field.

On the 7th re-reunion LP finds Pollard’s tightest line-up on full display, running through a gamut of styles and concepts. Each song feels different from  the next. The chord progressions are unwieldy at times. Pollard goes full on experimental vocals throughout, sometimes bellowing with the best of his run, other times bending his voice into new and less charted territory. Even the audio quality jumps from track to track in a way that's wholly refreshing compared to recent GBV LPs. Sometimes all of these things happen in the exact same song!

 Surrender Your Poppy Field feels like the most fun this group has had constructing a record to date. One can imagine Pollard giving a half finished demo tape to the band with nearly illegible scribbled notes, instructing them to run wild. This also applies tenfold for stalwart engineer Travis Harrison, producing some of the most profound and eyebrow raising moments of his tenure with Pollard. Everyone involved sounds like they're having the times of their lives-and it's all captured on tape.

 While Poppy Field is at times immediate, there are moments that beg for revisits, again, sometimes within the parameters of the same song. It is a moody album, flailing wildly with reckless abandon. There are swings and misses scattered about, but when it hits, it hits hard. A bold and exciting record 34 years into the universe of Pollard recordings.

Year of the Hard Hitter- 5 What happens when Bob Pollard sends his most scatterbrained demo recording to the band to figure out? They come up with this patchwork of 4 minute nonsense that somehow turns out to be one of the coolest GBV songs in the catalog thanks to its sheer massiveness alone. Is this a clusterfuck or actual genius? Constructed of nearly a dozen parts, this opener is an unwieldy gem of no-fi, psych, doom metal, sheer pop, all complete with unnecessarily long guitar bridge, and fireworks worthy guitar solos. A dizzying exhibition, and one wallop of an opener, not necessarily for the faint of heart. 

Volcano- 4 The greatest '90s song GBV never wrote. Sounding unnervingly unlike GBV and instead resembles an incredible slew of college slack rock hits you can almost put your finger on. Shoegazy, lush, impactful, complete with beautiful Bob melodies. However, misses the classic mark for almost being too... derivative? 

Queen Parking Lot- 4 After throwing back to other alt/indie 90s bands, Pollard throws it back to some simplistic glory day GBV territory with this short pop laden tune. Warbles about in mid-fi range, Pollard crushing it vocally. One of the sunniest spots on the record, that hooks with ease. 

Arthur Has Business Elsewhere- 5 A grand sweeping gesture from Pollard and gang ready to knock you on your heels. Meanwhile, revel in the potent production by Travis Harrison, some of his strongest work put to record yet.  Uncle Bob is in waltz mode, calliope bopping eerily about. Is this a circus fever dream we're stuck in? Empowering, triumphant. Play it loud.

Cul-De-Sac Kids- 2 A song with so much potential. Starts off brittle and reflective before kicking into mid-tempo, fairly standard Pollard 70's rock. However, the cheesy lyrics and vocal choice from Pollard make this more thorn in side than an actual winner. Is he mocking the lyrical stylings of Craig Finn? Does he sing with an intentional lisp at one point? Hearing "boy those 'sac kids throw good parties" makes my skin crawl just a tad. So many questions to a song with such a gorgeous start and outro.
Cat Beats a Drum3 Speaking of intros, what an incredible one to this song! However, this song is only stuck in intro mode. A two minute run that starts and never really gets anywhere, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Minimalist incidental indie music. Uncle Bob goes for some strange vocal stylings on this as well. However, as a whole, it's perfectly meditative, carried by Gillard's prickly descending guitar line that it fits unobtrusively in the back pocket of your brain.  

Windjammer- 3 This is the product of trying to squeeze The Who's entire discography into a 3 minute song. "Windjammer" is a dizzying mash-up of pop buried under Townsend strumming and Moon-like drum bashing, all mixed in a mid to lo-fi disorienting fashion. A grower that sometimes feels like a breathtaking headache. Pollard may have just invented kitchen-sink pop with this one.

Steely Dodger- 2 Moody, mysterious; a somewhat weak opener to side B, although intriguing. This song snakes along like a low hanging cloud. Grimy and subtly hooky, it occasionally begs for a revisit. Unsettling ground all around. 

Stone Cold Moron- 2 My new favorite Circus Devils' song. I refuse to believe Todd Tobias isn't manning these instruments. Complete with Pollard-the-cop voiceover at the end, this screams like a leftover track from Stomping Grounds. A mildly irritating stoner metal jam where Pollard gets to flash some classic constipated vocal intonations. It also has strong potential to get stuck in your head for unknown reasons, so it's got that going for it. 

Physician- 4 A pop gem that continues to get better with every listen. Dynamically, it rides the same wave length for a somewhat lengthy 3:38. But the song is so incredibly solid, from the blatant to its sneakier hooks. Gillard lights the fuse for another signature smoldering solo. One of the stronger tracks of the record.

Man Called Blunder- 3 The second single of the LP, "Man Called Blunder" is a simplistic three chord basher. Pollard shines vocally, pushing through this song like a double tracked bulldozer. Unfortunately, in an LP full of sudden surprises, this one feels almost too safe for its own good. 

Woah Nelly- What happens when Tom Waits meets Magnetic Fields? This haunting minute long tune sounds like it's projected from a busted gramophone in a cemetery. A haunted lullabye of sorts. Also, it's a "cover" of a song Pollard previously released on Lithuania Bombshell 7'' under the ESP Ohio name in 2016. It was great then, but it may be even better now. 

Andre the Hawk- 1 With a name like "Andre the Hawk," you could almost smell this stinker coming from a mile away. A downer of a waltz, this song is almost 2 minutes of a lifeless blank canvas with some fairly crummy lyrics as the finishing touch. Pollard's strong vocal performance goes nowhere on this gray blob tacked on at the tail end of the record. 

Always Gone- 5  What's this? After dozing off to the "Andre.." get ready to get a jolt with this minute plus GBV classic-lineup type rev up.  Could've been an UTBUTS outtake! Sunny nostalgia wrapped in a perfect minute and a half. Pure Pollardian gold. 

Next Sea Level3 And now after you've woken up with "Almost Gone," drift back to sleep with one of Pollar'ds most go-nowhere songs in a while. Reminiscent of something off Circus Devils' Five LP. Pulsing bass tones lead us in for over a minute before switching to half-assed 2 chord rock. BUT WAIT... this closer is so trancelike that after a few deep listens, this one begins to sink its teeth in. One of the most simplistic of all GBV songs, it's an eerie and fitting end as we float back out again into the unease of these modern times.

Man Called Blunder 7" (2020)

Man Called Blunder 7"
(2020, Guided by Voices Inc.)

One of two 7" singles released in support of Surrender Your Poppy Field. Limited to 1000 copies, the A-side contains the single, while the flip side contains the 7" exclusive cut. Here, GBV give their updated rendering of 1986's "She Wants To Know."

Man Called Blunder- Same track appears on the full-length LP Surrender Your Poppy Field. Check out the review over there.

She Wants To Know [New Version]- For whatever reason, Bob and the boys decided to dust-off this self proclaimed "classic" all the way back from 1986's Forever Since Breakfast EP, the first GBV release in the catalog. Unfortunatly, it's the weakest track on that original LP. Here, 34 years later, it's slightly better! Perhaps it's the production or the addition of Gillard's refined leads. This once ho-hum, overlong tune feels less cumbersome ho-hum song. Worth a passing glance. 

Volcano 7" (2020)

Volcano 7" 
(2020, Guided by Voices Inc.)

One of two 7" singles released in support of Surrender Your Poppy Field. Limited to 1000 copies, the A-side contains the single, while the flip side contains the 7" exclusive cut. In this case, GBV present a Kevin March solo track appropriate for the times. 

Volcano- Same track appears on the full-length LP Surrender Your Poppy Field. Check out the full review there.

Sun Goes Down- 4 Chilling. Kevin March takes the lead here on this sparse piano track. Sounding like he's sitting in an echo chamber, this song holds the power to send chills down one's spine. Almost over before it starts, it's a haunting gem begging to be excavated in the GBV solar system.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sweating the Plague (2019)

Sweating the Plague
(2019, Guided by Voices Inc.)

It's like 2012 all over again! Guided by Voices, with continued second reunion line-up forging ahead without end in sight, have released their 3rd LP of the year; enough to leave even the Pollard-addicted fans even somewhat satisfied with the sheer bounty of output!

To close out the 3 LP run of 2019, Guided by Voices decided to release their shortest LP to date; a 12 track affair of prog-heavy rock songs that take their time to unfold. It's a batch of material meant for you to sit with. It's also a dozen tracks meant to be played LOUD!

From it's brevity in tracklisting to its dynamic mid-song shifts, it's unlike any GBV LP of the past, perhaps having more in common with some of Pollard's side projects. Think the bottom heaviness of Zeppelin Over China blended with Universal Truths and Cycles/Earthquake Glue era prog. Then add in the gray-skies rock of Ricked Wicky's Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair, blended with dashes of the rock-centric moments in Circus Devils' Stomping Grounds. It's a downer of a record, but one that never feels too heavy a burden to bear. In fact, it manages to be one hell of an uplifting rock record, despite all it's angular jabs and surprises. With each spin, you may find yourself turning the record up to maximum listening capacity.

One of the key highlights of the record (which is so strong on LPs like Space Gun, and felt sorely lacking on Zeppelin Over China), is the sheer force behind Pollard's voice. He sounds determined, on-key, demanding. His harmonies hit in all the right spots (often hiding in these songs rather than immediately jumping out in a trad "pop" chorus). Engineer Travis Harrison continues to delight in the recording process, perhaps doing his best work yet. The band (Gillard, Shue, March, and Bare Jr.) really flesh this record out, turning Pollard's sketches into a bracing GBV record that truly rewards the listener with each repeated listen. 

33 years into his career, Pollard has perhaps succeeded in something he's never done before; creating the most unconventionally infectious GBV record of his expansive discography.

Downer- 2 The strangest GBV opening track of any LP in the canon, and for that, part of me wants to praise this song to the high heavens. Unfortunately, it's not a great song. Still, "Downer," is a post-punk/krautrock track that relies on feel but with addictively simple moments sprinkled about. Way more of a mood piece than song, but a jarring way to start off the record, setting the pace. Begs for (and gets) relistens out of sheer curiosity. 

Street Party-3 Originally slated to be the titlet rack of the LP, "Street Party," is more traditional to the GBV formula, but still left of center at times. A steady rocker that falls into "average" territory. The most arresting moments are scattered about in the song, both instrumentally and in Pollard's verses, rather than the fairly bland chorus of "It's a street party. And the heat is insane." 

Mother's Milk Elementary-4 Warbled acapella Pollard opens this up, brittle and beautifully. When the band kicks in with its slug-slow rock, this turns into a hulking haunt of tune. The even more haunting instrumental interlude into the bridge becomes spine tingling after repeated visits. Grows on you like a slow acting mold. 

Heavy Like the World- The first and lone single released for the record, "Heavy Like the World" is a Do the Collapse/Isolation Drills callback number. Really feels partially like a mash up of several GBV greatest hits moments. Fortunately, I don't sicken of these harmonized moments of joyful melancholy. Epic and beautiful. 

Ego Central High- 4  Feels partially like a paint-by-numbers hard rock riff song, but damn this song sinks its hooks in. The band takes their time, laying down an almost hypnotic crunch throughout. Dig that Circus Devils-like pounding bridge, into double timed pogo-punk part. Pollard comes off reserved, busting loose vocally during the doubled chorus parts. Like the entire record, it's best played at top volume. 

The Very Second4  Seemingly random acoustic strums eventually bursts into cocksure guitar rocker that gets better with age. The song keeps its foot firmly planted on the octane all while building throughout, going from big to bigger! Pollard sounds incredible on this track. The guitar work of Bare Jr. and Gillard really shine. And that brief hyper-charged outro? Oh, my heart. One song that begs for a stadium sized setting. 

Tiger on Top- 3 Rickety intro again bursts forth as the band delivers a start-stop progged up rocker. Begs for a crank of the volume nob. A bit uneven, even for a record bursting with uneven transitions, and surprises. A grower for sure, but possibly one too many twists and turns for its own good. The "tiger on top" part scorches, though! 

Unfun Glitz- 3 Bottom heavy, crunchy with some potent Pollardian pipes. Perhaps a little too by the book at times, "Unfun Glitz" is above average at best song, but one that elicits a fist-raising response. The band is locked in, and pushes it over the top but like it just falls shy of the mark. 

Your Cricket (Is Rather Unique)- 5 Demoed as track 98 on the Suitcase 4 collection, this song was originally released as the B-side of the You Own the Night 7'' released in 2018. The same track returns for its proper LP debut, drummer Kevin March taking lead vocal duties. As proven in August By Cake, March as a downright killer voice. Beside that, this proves to be one of Pollard's most beautifully written songs. Anthemic, heartfelt, complete gorgeous melody. Travis Harrison's production (combined with Gillard's guitar jangle, and March's tick-tock drumming in the verses), make this one of the great GBV moments of second reunion run. 

Immortals- 5 A steadfast hard rocker that stays the course, building in the choruses.  Guitar heavy with solid backbone and stiff upper lip attitude that never feels like posturing. A confident Pollard shines, sounding honest and potent, shooting from the hip. The repeat anthem outro is forcefully hooky below the surface, really standing as shining moment in GBV rock. 

My Wrestling Days Are Over- The throw-away of the LP is still interesting (and short) enough to continue to revisit in all its strange glory. A true Circus Devils moment if you will. Pollard boom-box demo-like beginning with overdubs is downright haunting. When Pollard sings the title, it actually hurts. Unnervingly, this song leads out with downbeat stomping and unfettered guttural screams. 

Sons of the Beard- Pollard has written a few of these multi-faceted, rock-operaesque songs throughout his career to varying results. Admittedly, I'm not much a rock opera fan so perhaps I come off biased during these moments. However, "Sons of the Beard," really delivers. It feels like an amalgamation, a condensed recap of the entire record crammed into one song, riding on feeling and pure sonics alone. Fittingly, the song ends with the same chords that opened the record, an endless circle that is Sweating the Plague