Friday, June 24, 2022

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 blogger.com 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.


In addition, THE RATING SYSTEM:
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 (www.gbvdb.com), 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" 

Crystal Nuns Cathedral ( 2022)

 Crystal Nuns Cathedral

(2022, Guided by Voices Inc.)


Until 2018’s Sweating the Plague, the concept of the 12 track GBV album was almost unfathomable. A band known for 10 track EPs (and a minimum of 14 to 15 songs per LP), the aforementioned LP broke new ground with one of their more focused, yet prog heavy affairs. It was a record that left little fat in the mix. Such was also the case with 2017’s Space Gun; a 15 track LP so worthy of celebration, Robert Pollard admitted to the conscious decision of letting it stand as the band's lone album of 2018.

While we're on the topic of Space Gun, I have personally come to regard it as the benchmark. Such is my fervor for what is undeniably the stone-cold best amalgamation of any Guided by Voices' lineup, this LP has remained in my heart as the best of the (whopping) 12 LPs since 2016. Its tracks weave nicely between heavy-handed pop, listener friendly prog, all topped with soaring harmonies. It's the reunion record I did not think could be topped.

Then, along comes Crystal Nuns Cathedral. Following 2021’s somewhat inconsistent It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them!, this record comes as a bit of a shock. Where the former is a collection of orchestral anthems smattered with some ho-hum 2-3 minute pop-leaning filler (and “Razor Bug”!!!), CNC drops into the catalog like an anvil. 

                At 12 songs, it’s a lean tracklist to be reckon with. However, every song packs a undeniable punch. The lack of filler shows, as every move feels about as calculated and deliberate as anything Pollard has released. As is the ongoing case with every new GBV, Travis Harrison continues to aid as the 6th member of the band with his stellar production. If there's a set of ears who gets how to elevate the band, they belong to Harrison. His production work alone cannot be understated as the band reaches new sonic highs. 

Over the past few albums, Doug Gillard’s string arrangements give an aural heaviness and emotional weight to these records that can be felt in one’s bones. Crystal Nuns Cathedral is no exception. In all this, Pollard continues to laugh in the face of the concept of aging. Vocally, he absolutely crushes his past performances with possibly his best showing to date. To top it off, the often psychedelic, existential lyricism are some of his recent best.

The question is not whether Crystal Nuns Cathedral as a whole is the best new "reunion record," but possibly one of the best Robert Pollard related albums of all-time?


SIDE A:

Eye City- 5 With its lackadaisical guitar bends and subdued time keeping, it's pretty immediate we're not in for a record filled with a bunch of “Cigarette Tricks” and “Hit" length tracks. No punch in the gut here, the LP opens with a breath of cold air, Pollard hovering over the vocal mix like hanging icicles. The guitars snake around as if longing to burst. After a much anticipated set up the song inevitably  explodes at the chorus.  Pollard's layered harmonies are equal parts haunting and infectious. Laden with dynamics, this opener is a panasonic attack of layered haze, the band waiting to attack at any moment. A long fuse burns slow eventually leaving unavoidable burns. 

Re-Develop- 5 Tom pounding abounds as Bare Jr. and Gillard lead a staccato guitar jab while Pollard lays an instantly slyly hooky verse. In revelry, the chorus opens into a top 10 fist raising anthem. Straddles a wonderfully delicate line between longing and immediacy. Begs for repeated listens during moments of triumph, and times of uncertainty.

Climbing a Ramp- 4 Carried by Gillard's pummeling cello arrangement and March's robotic hi-hat work, "Climbing a Ramp" is an upward journey full of longing, loss of hope, anxiety, and eventually the gimmer of possible hope. Like the grind itself, this feels like it'll never end, trapped in the ever moving, unforgiving gears of life itself. Eventually Gillard's blazing lead into fiery solo carries us out. Additionally, the orchestration brings this song to new heights, with Pollard's not-so-thinly-veiled lyrics about continuing to carry on "always climbing a ramp" only adding to the weight. 

Never Mind the List- 5 After the anxiety and eventual release of "Climbing a Ramp," this song sounds downright breezy. Closer to "classic" GBV than the previous songs on the record, "Never Mind the List" is carried by a singular Pollard vocal take that absolutely shines. Incredibly infectious in its mid-tempo groove, this song seems to again speak of continuing to carry on. Never mind "the list," disregard the outside voices. Come to think of it, never mind what I say on this site either! "And I always throw another list away." 

Birds In the Pipe- 4 The band plays a sparse waltzy cadence, Pollard confidently upfront in the mix. Another perfectly paced track with a lot of open space to breath. Halfway through, Pollard introduces an incredible call and response vocal part. Eventually, he ups the ante at the 2 minute mark, hitting incredible vocal highs, nailing the notes on the head. Where this may have paled slightly in the past, the group is so incredibly gelled with Harrisons' production topping it off nicely.

Come North Together- 5 Immediacy takes center stage, Pollard bellowing harmoniously from the jump. Side A leads us out with another celebratory anthem dotted with moments of melancholy. It cannot be understated just how surefooted Pollard sounds here, from the sing-along worthy verses to the bridge. An incredible ending to one of the strongest sides of any GBV outing.  


SIDE B:

Forced To Sea- 3 We open SIDE B with what feels like a callback to "Next Sea Level" off Surrender Your Poppy Field. It's a soundscape track of sorts, with the band nearly aimlessly moving along in pure mood. There's no immediacy here as you begin to wonder if we're getting an instrumental. At nearly 2 minutes, Kevin March kicks in with Pollard following suite. As close to stoner rock as the record comes to at this point, "Forced to Sea," is in no hurry, eventually leading us out with the force and determination.

Huddled- 3 "Huddled" is one of those tracks that  means no harm, no foul. In fact, every time I hear it, I've really enjoy it. However, in an LP full of continuous surprises and on point performances, I often find myself forgetting how this one goes. Somewhat prog-laced with its multi-sectional pieces. Not much in the way of a chorus to sink ones teeth into, but a strong enough middle of the pack showing nonetheless. 

Excited Ones- 5 The first of internet streaming singles to see release, "Excited Ones" is a pure melodic torpedo anthem aimed straight the auditory cortex. This one almost comes off as GBV-up-to-their-usual-tricks. Regardless, there's no point in denying the joy of this hooky, immediate anthem. Pollard slips in more moments of sly harmonizing as the band upwardly bashes behind him in a joyous pogo. Another revelatory track cloaked in a thin layer of melancholy. 

The Eyes of Your Doctor- 4 A hefty dish of psychedelic and the prog on one of the records most ambitious songs. "The Eyes of Your Doctor" starts out in an airy territory. Midway, the tempo picks up with immediacy before drawing us back into calm. Full of jilted starts and stops, Gillard's leads provide a memorable hook. Vocally, the hooks sink in after repeated listens.  At 4 minutes, and with a smattering of moving parts, this may prove to be one the sneakiest earworms of the LP with its assortment of surprises.

Mad River Man- 3 Foreboding penultimate track, the song is mostly carried by Harrison's production. Pollard delivers a somewhat middle of the road vocal hook over one of the gloomier showings on the record. A minor chord feast that comes off as one of the more forgettable moments of the record.

Crystal Nuns Cathedral- 5 Following the gloom of "Mad River Man," the band fires back up for a wonderfully revelatory, concise, and hook laden closer. Full of cryptic, psych lyrical mysticism, this may be the most immediate closer since "An Unmarketed Product,." At just under 2 minutes, this pop gem calls for you to flip the record back over and start the journey again. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them (2021)

It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them
(2021, Guided by Voices Inc.)


Reputedly an album title that was in contention for 2003’s Earthquake Glue, the INTICBTIIT moniker finally sees the light of day. As tongue-in-cheek as it is true (and a testament to the groups audacity), Guided by Voices continues to throw caution to the wind. Record plant backups be damned, GBV can’t be stopped, won’t be stopped! The 2nd proper Guided by Voices album of 2021 (and the 11th with the re-reunion band, if you're still keeping score at home), is yet another triumphant display from the solidified line-up that seems determined to take no prisoners with each subsequent record.

After the experimental, mixed fidelity "school musical rock opera" grab bag of Earthman Blues, GBV issue another 15 tracks crammed with sentimentality, high wire experimentation, and an orchestral display rarely seen before. The sheer fidelity here is also an immediate standout. Always a wiz behind the boards, Travis Harrison takes matters in his own hand by crafting perhaps the most hi-fi GBV record yet, one that really compliments the inclusion of such orchestral passages as mentioned. The experience truly pays off in helping push some of the records (multiple) triumphant moments through the ribcage.

Unlike some its predecessors, It Can’t Be Them.. is one of the few records that feels like it lacks any sort of cohesive feel, weather thematically (Earthman Blues), or stylistically (Styles We Paid For, Surrender Your Poppy Field). This doesn’t necessarily detract from the record. However, it’s one of the first in a while that feels like assortment of songs without a distinct stake in the catalog to claim. Nevertheless, it’s another dizzy display of Pollard’s bottomless barrel of brilliance delivered in recent year quality we’ve not only come to expect, but may possibly be taking for granted at this point.

  

SIDE A:

Spanish CoinAs the 3rd run of GBV LPs continue to pile up, the surprise left turns of Song 1/Side 1 keep coming. No longer a sure bet, Pollard has used these first tracks as a springboard for some of his wilder ideas (see “Year of the Hard Hitter,” “Downer,” etc.) “Spanish Coin” is no exception. At nearly 3.5 minutes, the song takes its time building up over traditional flamenco guitar leads, trilling trumpets, and layers of Latin percussion. Pollard sounds upfront, somewhat desperate in his delivery, really aiding the arid feel of it all. If nothing else, the song is another welcomed gamble in style and mood that generally pays off.

 High In the RainOne of the early online singles released for the LP, “High In the Rain” is up there with some of the most triumphant GBV songs in the catalog. Pollard sounds excellent, bellowing out melody after beautiful melody. Gillard’s string arrangements sore, hitting you directly in the chest. Like the opener, this one builds until ready to burst. Perhaps almost too heavy handed in spots for some, this is uber lush territory, only further propelled by Travis Harrison's impeccable production.

 Dance of the Gurus5 A propulsive guitar anthem, filled with psych dropouts. Not to mention infectious, perhaps due to Pollard’s near cloying repetitive word play of the fleeting not traditional “choruses.” The song benefits from some well timed drop out, only to explode back in, particularly at the end.

 Flying Without a License3 Barebones guitar intro gives way to sudgier prog psych.  When the band kicks in they trudge along a slow groove, taken their time while cloaks himself in a blanket of vocal reverb. The whole track feels clouded in smoke, as you peer through the haziness with half open dried eyes.

 Psycho HouseFollowing the vein of recently named “house” songs, this one takes a page from the repetitive slow burn of such growers as “Slaughterhouse” off Styles We Paid For. Subdued to a low-level drone jam of sorts, “Psycho House” constructs a hypnotic mood, one that’s easy to fall backwards into waiting for it to consume you. The kind of song that boarders on temporary psychotic bliss.

Maintenance Man of the Haunted HouseSpeaking of more “house” songs, Pollard continues his fascination with domestic dwellings. Here, Pollard and gang dive deeper into “moody” territory. The feel of this one is solely in the name. An eerier slow burn, in the vein of Circus Devils’ track.

I Share a RhythmCompletely harmless pop rocker. Unfortunately, it’s the cut and paste structure that makes this feel mostly forgettable. Comes off as a tossed off track backed by a single  Pollard vocal track that’s one of the only spots on the record leaves a little to be desired. The type of GBV track that fails to make its way into my memory, causing me to forget what it sounds like until I put it back on.

Razor BugDestined to be THE most talked about track of the LP (for all the wrong reasons), “Razor Bug” is essentially the new “Sad Baby Eyes,” but more stripped down. Pollard “performs” acapella into his boombox, sounding like a sloppier, less gravely Captain Beefheart, spewing off some possibly stream-of-conscience lines about Mr. Razor Bug. I don’t hate its inclusion, and in fact kind of enjoy it showing up to end Side A. Essential? Far from it. An event not to be missed. Oh yeah. 

 

SIDE B:

I Wanna MonkeyExcellent industrial drum intro leads us into post-punk pop territory. At nearly 3 minutes, Pollards voice hangs upfront for the majority, bringing to mind a Lee Ranoldo-esque delivery. The outro propels toward the finish line, Pollard shining in a bellowed doubled vocal performance, but the song never really takes hold, falling flat in an “I Share a Rhythm” kind of way. 

Cherub and the Great Child ActorFrom the get-go, the lead intro brings to mind some vintage Pollardian penned moments . Vocally, Pollard delivers a hypnotically melodic croon throughout. The group comes off so effortlessly, it's almost easy to miss the simplistic beauty here. Smooth, subtly jangled, subtly psych, all pop at a perfectly prim 2 minutes. The song rings out... 

Black and White Eyes In a Prism... different in scope but somewhat similar in feel, we pick back up, as if this were the added addendum to "Cherub..." At 4 and a half minutes, "Black and White Eyes..." is the epic of the LP, and what an epic it is. Disregarding multi-sectioned layers found on some of the band's recent epic outings (i.e. "Light Out in Memphis," "Sons of the Beard"), "Black and White..." relies on its easy flow groove while slipping easily into a multitude of lush string passages. Much like "High In the Rain," this one spills over the top several times in pure revelatory triumph. 

People Need HolesDogged by a fairly forgettable first half, "People Need Holes" is all about the fist raising second section. The first minute and a half is all about the anticipation, waiting for Gillard's angular lead to accent Pollard's deadpan melody until the quadrophonic "oh yeah"s carry you off downstream in a joyous haze.

The Bell Gets Out of the WayReserved in feel, similar to "Low Flying Perfection, “ off How Do You Spell Heaven. After running through a bit of an emotional gamut, "The Bell..." feels like a refreshing palate cleanser with a finish warm hug. A place to regroup after some heavy handed aural therapy.

 Chain Gang IslandMid-tempo stomp, accented by some immense vocal reverb for max psych disorientation. Boiling slow and steady, it all mounts to a headrush of feeling; a satisfying blend of hard psych rock finishing off in an extended, swirling existential psych jam that's a welcomed (and necessary) addition to the LP. 

My (Limited) EngagementThe first of the online singles to be released from the LP, GBV send the LP off on a high leg-kicking note, Pollard reaching the highs with a saccharine sweet bellow. A compact mini-anthem destined for easy GBV playlist pop territory. A final sunbeam at just under 2 minutes from another sonically demanding LP of tricks and audial delights. 

 


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Clang Clang Ho (2021)

 Clang Clang Ho

(2021, Guided by Voices Inc.)


It’s July 4th weekend 2021, and Guided by Voices have returned less than 3 months removed from Earth Man Blues! They cannot be stopped!!! The full roster is here. 20 jammed packed songs from the likes of Pollard, Gillard, March, Shue, and Bare Jr. Soundman/producer Travis Harrison is on back on board, fiddling with knobs and taking on full instrumental responsibilities as well! Except, this isn't GBV at all. It's the full length debut of the somewhat "mysterious" Cub Scout Bowling Pins!

 

Following the release of the highly lauded Heaven Beats Iowa (an EP that swooped into the pre-order world without warning, and was delivered to doorsteps in one of the fastest turn around surprises in a while), expectations were set. The 6 song EP featured a mix of styles (lo-fi rock, power pop, new wave inspired pieces) that blended together and satisfied like a heat-and-serve lunch on the run. It was a quick shock of creativity from a group of guys already churning out an unfathomable amount of material since reforming in 2016.

 

Perhaps the bar then was set just a little too high for the debut LP Clang Clang Ho, one of the more uneven offerings in the Pollard catalog in a while. The LP in hindsight almost feels doomed after the one-two punch of its predecessors creative offerings. In its place, the LP feels at times lacking the urgency, creativity, brevity set forth earlier in the calendar year. The LP in turn tends to fall somewhere in between a Cash Rivers album (without the blue humor) and dated adult contemporary. Add a few dashes of psychedelia and muddled mid-fi pop for good measure, and you’re left to make sense of this as a whole.

One of the more polarizing issues with the LP, nearly every track runs the risk of feeling mucked up with dated synths, tropical themed percussion,  and a smattering of electronic bleeps and bloops that add up to a bit of a sonic head-scratcher. On top of that, there’s almost no predicting when Pollard will drop in with some further muffled scatting vocal tracks.  

 

 

It's a record brimming with collective ideas, each member writing and recording backing tracks that does bring a few merits to the table. It’s a grab bag for sure, one that sometimes maddens more than delights, bringing new sonic layers to the Pollard pre-recorded vocal boombox demos universe.

 

Strap in and take the ride in the...

 

SIDE A:

Magic Taxi3 We begin our ride through the fun house with a solid attempt at '60s melodic pop, glazed in a dreamlike fog. Feels reminiscent of a fairly balanced combo of The Monkees meets The Who. However, the whole track is so bloated with lush acoustics and sweeping synths that it winds up overshadowing much of the simplistic beauty going on here. Memorably hooky in a children’s song kind of way.

 

Flip Flop World1 Ho' boy. Who let Cash Rivers crash his dune buggy into the second track of this album? Uncle Bob shows up to basically scat over dinner table Luau music full of bongos and subtle surf rock palm muting. Humorous if little else.

 

Casino Hair Wife3 Mid-tempo tune for gray skies, but one that slowly wins you over in bleary eyed monotony. Pollard sings in a drawl as the song limps along with undertones of postpunk malaise, sneaking into the back of your brain to stay.

 

Ride My Earthmobile2 Pollard repeats the title of the song a million times in a goofball voice as kaleidoscopic carnival rock spins around, toms pounding, slowly building in an anxious repetition of jilted psychosis. A slight glimmer of hope musically, built around a limited Pollard vocal sketch.

 

Schoolmaster Bones- Bounce-tastic easy listening, as Pollard croons, and sometimes plods his way through. A mini Who-esque number in places that rewards with revisits. 

 

Eggs, Mother?Pollard, a man haunted by eggs, continued obsession with finding ways to sing about them in his art. One of the more upwardly mobile songs in the set, the track is an obtusely catch track that sinks in. The piano adds an extra bounce in the songs already carefree step. At just over a minute, it's a bizarre ray of sunshine in a somewhat murky record.

 

Strange Walk Home- FM '90s college rock radio friendly, "Strange Walk Home" feels like a hazy dream. Pollard's vocals wonder about complete with tremelo effect and the donning of odd accents. Unfortunately, it's all mostly forgettable. 


Nova Mona- Another one that falls instrumentally in pop-bop spectrum. The Pollard vocals on the verses leave little to be desired, causing it to all fall in the pocket of blandly average. 

 

The Telegraph Hill Gazette- 3 Opens with promising jangled acoustic guitar lead before heading slowly down a darker, more mysterious path. By songs end, this one feels like we're deep in the woods, buried in another dream. Almost forgettable if not for it's incredible execution as moods transition before our ears. Seamlessly bleeds into... 

 

Everybody Loves a BaboonA song that lives up to its poor title. More scatting from Uncle Bob as this song leads us out in under a minute. 

 

 

SIDE B:

© 1-2-3The bonafide pop single of the LP, Side B’s opener is vintage melancholy pop, complete with call and response melodic gold. A steadfast winner that warrants plenty of quick, satisfying visits.

 

Sister Slam DancePerhaps the most “metal” track on the LP, this song also lyrically tips its hat to the Clang Clang Ho title. Somewhat grim, with a dash of industrial, “Sister Slam Dance,” is the kind of prog-light sludge you find yourself eventually reveling in.

 

It's Marbles!- A mixed bag of guitar bending, harmonious backing vocals, Uncle Bob drunken accent bending. Also feels like a Cash Rivers song that got away and stuck here. Not sure who this song is for? 

 

Space Invader- A mini-prog pop passage that is easy on the ears as it is on the heart. Sounds like a paisley-shirt era '60s demo. One of the best of the tracks on the record that gets better with each listen. 

 

Human Car- At 1:30, "Human Car" is more filler for the mix, unfortunately clogging up the Side B with odd choices. No real vocal melody to speak of. Feels like Pollard was trying to figure a few things out as he went along. Musically, the song also feels like a skeletal work in progress that never found its footing. 

 

Competitor- 2 A mostly frenetic wild guitar strumming journey complete with staccato scatting interrupted by moments of ho-hum, breathable moments of reflection. 

 

She Cannot KnowDowner rock complete with haunting pan flute, evoking some sort of brown sweater wearing folk performance on a gloomy fall day in the college quad circa 1967. 

 

We- After a minute instrumental buildup, Pollard appears in another mini-prog display. The song leads out in a group chant and moment of sheer triumph! A nice bright spot toward the end of the record. 

 

Roll Up Your Nose-  Perhaps the best Pollard vocals performance on the record, complete with melancholy, melodious bravado. The song leads us out with a wonderfully repetitive group vocal of longing and victory. Yes, this certainly is one hell of a closing track to bring this long record to a fitting close!

 

What Crawls Also Flies Over- Oh wait, what a perfectly missed opportunity at a closer with that last one! In perhaps fitting fashion, this 2 minute mid-tempo tune actually sends us off with out of tune vocals, paper thin drumming, and lifeless acoustics. Clang clang ho! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Earth Man Blues (2021)

Earth Man Blues

 (2021, Guided by Voices Inc.)


In the Robert Pollardsphere, the concept LP is a bridge that’s been crossed several times. While often not overtly rooted in any tangible concept, Pollard (ever the rock aficionado), has slapped that label onto various records that seemingly contain little to no theme. It’s part of what makes the snaking creative labyrinth of his colossal body of work so enjoyable, intriguing.

With the concept record in mind, we find ourselves at a hodgepodge of ideas smashed together as only Pollard and Guided by Voices can present. Beyond his penchant for assigning elusive meaning to some of his LPs, Pollard is a collector of his own ideas strewn across notebooks, cut-and-paste collages, and dusty cassette tapes straight from the boombox. Armed with a collection of such ideas, and always looking for new ways to assemble his art, Pollard went different route in constructing GBV’s frenetic LP Earth Man Blues.

A collection of discarded songs, Earth Man Blues resurrects some of Pollard’s scraps from recent years and gives them new, often exciting life. It’s an assemblage of nearly lost bastard songs and snippets redone and remotely recorded from several locations across the US (including Kevin March’s drums being put to tape outdoors from a Montclair, NJ parking garage). To top it off, Pollard assembles the liner notes and artwork to mimic that of a stage play with the essence of a Playbill. The front cover boasts “John A. Morrison Production” (Pollard’s elementary alma matter in Dayton, a school that has since been bulldozed), as we embark on twisted, small town public school theater.

Pollard may not always be profound, but he is always intriguing. And after a potent 2020, GBV with stalwart producer Travis Harrison have delivered a somewhat confounding record; a times a return to basics, other times venturing off into bold new experiments. It delights, it frustrates, it keeps you coming back for more looking to uncover more pieces of the puzzle, much like GBV themselves.

 

SIDE A:

Made Man2 For an LP of discarded songs, this opener stalls out of the gate as one of the most trash heap worthy GBV fragments come to life. Practically one verse, so cloying that it somehow infects your brain over time. Interrupted by an extraneous orchestral bridge that drops in from left field, making for a maddeningly out of place yet exciting moment. Damned if you don’t walk around whistling this blink-and-you-miss-it tune after few spins though.

The Disconnected Citizen4 A waltzy, breezy ballad carried by more lush orchestral backing. Pollard sounds warbled, frail but in a positive way. The whole track feels triumphant, yet dusty, like an old photograph unearthed in an attic to see the light of day. A potent number that takes it time, allowing you to interchangeably raise a fist or shed a tear. 

The Batman Sees the Ball3 Lean repetitive riff rocker devoid of any extra baggage. Carried on the merit of said lead riff, this one feels mostly like a no harm no foul (no pun intended) track. It’s in the pocket groove gives sculpts it, but almost feels as if the song suffers from a lack of rock propulsion. It hits more like a mid-00s Tobias track, missing that certain something that fails to push this over the edge into greatness.

Dirty Kid School3 A rare moment of GBV swagger mixed with a healthy dose of schizophrenia; from the drums to the guitar work, complete with Pollard's free-swinging vocal lines. Travis Harrison, ever the mad scientist juggles ideas around making this an aural free-for-all full of daredevil instrumental changes, complete with Zappa-esque percussive bridge. It's a head scratcher in some of the best ways. 

Trust Them Now- 5 A propulsive pop track that leans into punk territory with a healthy dose of Pollardian pop melancholy. Uncle Bob lays down a low registered vocal track that flows with easy, imbedding itself in one’s brain. The undeniable anthem and new classic of the record that makes you wonder what could’ve possibly kept this off any past records in the first place. 

Lights Out In Memphis (Egypt)- 4 If you're looking for a multi-layered progrocker, strap on your jetpacks, zip up your jumpsuits and fall face first down the looking glass as this nearly 5 minute monument of rock unfolds before you. This one takes its time to even get started, eventually jump cutting from verse to chorus. However, once those choruses hit, and eventually repeat, it becomes a slow burn cause for celebration. If you stick it out and revisit, you may find the anticipation of the track, combined with the instrumental swelling make this too promising to pass up. 

 

SIDE B:

Free AgentsAnother new GBV classic! Steady hook filled verses build upon each other until the song eventually feels as if it takes flight thanks to Gillard's chiming leads and Pollard's building intensity. By the time we hit the second half of the song, the band feels aloft, Pollard bellowing dreamy worthy hooks with ease and purpose.

Sunshine Girl4 "Sunshine Girl" feels like a large chunk of the GBV ethos crammed together in a 2 and half minute package of ear candy. At its core, the song is a delightfully mixed bag of waltzing folky jangle pop. However, it's bookended by a hell of a pair of mid-fi psychrock snippets that makes you beg to wonder what wondrous roads they could've taken us down as well if expanded upon.  

Wave Starter3 Rolling toms, pounding snare, and gurgling bass line give this declarative run of the mill track a strong frame work. Perfectly fine song, almost destined to get lost in the sea of tunes. Feels like a potential mid set live song Pollard insists on keeping on setlist for the long haul. 

Ant Repellent2 One of those GBV moments in common with a Circus Devils’ idea than a GBV song. The song is essentially a slow chug and stomp while Pollard and gang annoyingly deadpan "Ant Repellent. Ant repel ant." A few moving parts, including a brief stoner jam ending that is a breath of fresh air, but never feels it has much purpose or direction. 

Margaret Middle School4 One simplistic minute of midtempo rock given life padded nicely with vocal pop hooks that flow with easy. Gets stuck in your head with little notice. Joyfully short and sweet for a quick revisit. 

I Bet HippyGBV tackle this track with welcomed minimalism. Pollard sounds somewhat vulnerable but surefooted. Mark Shue plays a descending bass line that sounds like dense a melodic avalanche of melancholy slowly rolling down the hillside backed by brittle guitars. Has the power to slyly sink its teeth into your psyche. 

Test Pilot1 After listening to the LP about 20 times, I still can never recall what "Test Pilot" exactly sounds like. It manages the rare feat of feeling like a black void on the LP; a song that simply can't be recalled. Pollard sort of sneers over forgettable guitar licks backed by stiff, uninspired midtempo drumming. And then it ends, sitting there to be rediscovered and forgotten for another time.  

How Can A Plumb Be Perfected?3 Perhaps the most cryptic GBV track of the record. Like “I Bet Hippy,” the band goes with a minimalist approach, keeping this hushed, letting the beauty lay low. Pollard chooses to veil this in a shadowy reverb and chilling minimalism. The approach is somewhat fascinating, and it works, except the chorus constantly brings to mind The Psychedelic Furs in a way that continues to haunt me in all the wrong ways. A roadblock yet to be passed. 

Child's PlayOne of the wildest, if not THE wildest closer in GBV history. Actually, one of the stranger mishmash of songs in the GBV catalog. Absolutely jarring upon first listen; a fragmented nightmare of high-octane rock, jilted stops and starts, and masturbatory guitar soloing that begs for a double take and a deep dive once more. A disjointed send-off on an album full of resurrected ideas.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

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. 


SIDE A:
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.


SIDE B:
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.


SIDE A:

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. 


SIDE B:

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.  


SIDE A:

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. 


SIDE B:

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. 


SIDE A:
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. 


SIDE B:
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.