March 20, 2018 Guided by Voices – Space Gun (Album Review)
In the excitingly diverse ’90s music scene, the sub-genre of Alternative Rock dubbed as Lo-Fi, whose root harked back to the late ’70s and early ’80s—via the music of bands like The Raincoats (Odyshape), Young Marble Giants (Colossal Youth), and Beat Happening (Jamboree)—became one of the foci of the commercial spotlight.
Lo-Fi is characterized by an intentionally less polished and treble-oriented, tinny sound – usually brought about by the limited recording resources available to the fledgling artists, especially during the very nascent stage of their careers. However, more often than not, such propensity for Lo-Fi eventually evolved into something much fuller-sounding as their exposure broadens and progresses. The early proponents of the subgenre in the aforementioned decade included Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted), Sebadoh (The Freed Man), and Guided by Voices. Of the three, the last proved to be the most prolific and enduring.
Formed in 1983, in Dayton, Ohio, Guided by Voices released its debut album in 1987; but only during the so-called Alternative Rock explosion in the ensuing decade when the mainstream radar detected the existence of the band. To date, it has released 24 albums, from 1987’s Devil Between My Toes to last year’s How Do You Spell Heaven. And now, not even a full year has passed, the band founded by the solely remaining member Robert Pollard (vocals, guitar) is unleashing again a new set of songs.
Scheduled for release on Friday, March 23, 2018, on Rockathon Records, Guided by Voices’ 25th offering, titled Space Gun, emanates the glow of a revitalized Pollard, who is backed up by equally passionate and prolific musicians: longtime bandmates Doug Gillard (guitar) and Kevin March (drums) and newcomers Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), and Mark Shue (bass).
It opens with the accelerator-charged energy of the title track, whose layers of guitars and upbeat mood make it an apt and proper album starter. This is followed by the ear-splicing, groove-driven “Colonel Paper,” asserting the band’s ’90s Alternative Rock influences. Building on the style of the preceding track, the ensuing “King Flute” stands out with its symphonic shots and flute-sounding mellotron melody, giving it a rustic, folky vibe. The mid-tempo “Ark Technician” is the third of this triumvirate of character-based songs that Pollard with his fellow guided voices concocted for this quirky new musical adventure of his.
Guided by Voices then treat the listener to a string-laden Rock stomper in the form of “See My Field.” Getting more and more daring, the band then goes a bit grungy with “Liar’s Box” – fuzzy yet still poppy and hook-filled, exuding faint echoes of fellow Alternative Rockers Dinosaur Jr. (“Not the Same”), Pixies (“Monkey Gone to Heaven”), Screaming Trees (“Dollar Bill”), and Nirvana (“Heart-Shaped Box”). The Doo-Wop-glazed “Blink Blank” then takes the listener back to the overall catchiness of Space Gun.
With its cool, infectious, and upbeat swagger, “Daily Get Ups” is a warm kiss of early-morning sunrise. The mood then switches to something initially starry Bowie-sque and then to a languid drawl as the ditty “Hudson Rake” plays next. Another sunny-bright, surfy track follows – The Beach Boys-inspired “Sport Component National.”
A different kind of beast (or marsupial, to be precise), “I Love Kangaroos” recalls similar lighthearted, juvenile excursions by the likes of They Might Be Giants (“Birdhouse in Your Soul”), The Dead Milkmen (“The Badger Song”), and Toy Dolls (“Nellie the Elephant”)—albeit only in lyrical concept. The playfulness shifts to tunefulness with “Grey Spat Matters,” where Pollard’s saccharine voice soars like a cloud of comfort, reminiscent of that of Bob Mould of Sugar (“Changes”).
Near the end of the set, Guided by Voices then serenade the listener with the slow, string-adorned melancholy of “That’s Good.” Yes, good indeed. Melancholic, too.
Clearly, Pollard and comrades want to end the album with something heavy and metallic – the bit theatrical “Flight Advantage” does the job, as its guitar flies like Van Halen’s “Panama.” They then blow the smoke off and, finally, holster Space Gun with the rocky, punchy shots of “Evolution Circus.” And so the show is over; but knowing Pollard and his prolificity, surely there is more to come.
Many critics and listeners lament their perceived lack of good new music or great songwriters available these days. Well, obviously, they are not in touch with the continuous grind of music after all. For here is the tireless Pollard with his band, showcasing his eternally boiling pot of songcrafting faculty—20+ years, 100+ albums, and 2000+ songs! If that is not a Guinness World Records–worthy feat, then what is? CrypticRock gives Guided by Voices’ Space Gun 5 out of 5 stars.