January 28, 2019 Guided by Voices – Zeppelin Over China (Album Review)
Guided by Voices is one of the most prolific among its batch of Indie Rock associated outfits, customarily releasing an album every a couple of years, with a tracklisting that often consists of not less than fifteen tracks. The last time the 1983-formed American band released an album was only last year, and now Guided by Voices is about to unleash the followup.
Scheduled to be available for purchase on Friday, February 1, 2019, via its own label, Zeppelin Over China is Guided by Voices’ 26th offering. Generous as always, Bandleader Robert Pollard (vocals) and his comrades—Doug Gillard (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Mark Shue (bass), Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), and Travis Harrison (engineer)—treat their fans to a double-disc affair comprised by a whopping 32 tracks.
The first part of Zeppelin Over China’s Disc One begins with the short greeting “Good Morning, Sir,” and then followed by “Step of the Wave,” which will remind the initiated of Menswear’s “Daydreamer.” The equally angular “Carapace” plays next in the same ’90s Britpop vibe. The mood then turns a bit slower and rustic with the folky Alternative Country flare of “Send In the Suicide Squad,” only to build up again with another crunchy and catchy ditty, “Blurring the Contacts.”
“Your Lights Are Out” is a slight change of style—a bit Psychedelic, a tad Noise Rock; think of Sonic Youth (“Bull in the Heather”) and Sugar (“Helpless”). After the relaxing “Windshield Wiper Rex,” Guided by Voices concludes the first segment with the sludgy rockin’ stomper “Holy Rhythm.”
Part Two of Disc One opens with the semi-acoustic “Jack Tell,” reverberating faint echoes of Buffalo Tom (“Torch Singer”). The orchestrated “Bellicose Starling” follows softly in the same acoustic predisposition. The pace shoots up with the Post-Punk “Wrong Turn On,” which sounds like an homage to Joy Division (“Dead Souls”). Guided by Voices takes a slight rest with the dark and somber “Charmless Peters,” and then shifts the gear again with the celebratory “The Rally Boys”—one of the album’s sure carriers. Two jagged rockers follow—“Think. Be a Man” and “Jam Warsong”—before Pollard and the rest of the voices wrap up the first disc with the subtly progressive “You Own the Night.” Brilliant!
Disc Two opens with “Everything’s Thrilling,” in which Pollard seems to be conjuring the raspy and rootsy temperament of Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam (“”Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”). The ensuing consecutive tracks—“Nice about You,” “Enstein’s Angel,” and “The Hearing Department,” are the album’s necessary faux ballads—a delectable mix of shiny guitar plucks, spiky strums, and enough drum punches.
A change of stride occurs again with “Questions of the Test”—emulating the slow-fast-soft-loud dynamics that defined early-’90s Alternative Rock, as best exemplified by the likes of Pixies (“Gigantic”), Dinosaur Jr. (“Feel the Pain”), and of course, Nirvana. Another folky track follows next in the form of “No Point.” And then, before they conclude Zeppelin Over China with its title theme, Guided by Voices rev up again the sonic machine with “Lurk of the Worm”—a Hüsker Dü–reminiscent preoccupation; talk about “Pink Turns to Blue.”
Guided by Voices’ latest pièce de résistance now comes to its final part. It begins with the frenetic rhythm of “Where Have You Been All My Life?”, which vibes off a hint of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.” Two simple, steady, Alternative Punk rockers then play next—“Cold, Cold Hands” and “Transpiring Anathema.” And then there is the cutesy Guitar/Baroque Pop “We Can Make Music”—another album highlight.
After the short “Cobbler Ditches,” Guided by Voices treats the listener to something different—the piano-oriented “Enough Is Never at the End,” which comes across as an Irish drinking song, soulfully echoing The Pogues (“Fairytale of New York”). The penultimate track, “My Future in Barcelona” returns the listener to the general sugary state of the album. Then, finally, Guided by Voices aptly finishes off Zeppelin Over China with the waltzy Baroque Pop of “Vertiginous Raft”—mustering aural spirits from The Beatles’ legendary masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band as well as David Bowie’s debut of the same year.
If only for their prolificacy, then Guided by Voices is already highly remarkable. But, no, Pollard and company are beyond that; more often than not, they are quality and quantity at the same time. That is what makes the music of Guided by Voices deeply compelling and sweetly overwhelming. Because of this, Cryptic Rock gives Zeppelin Over China a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars.