Taking the idea of being prolific to ridiculous levels, Robert Pollard is here this week to lead his cronies in Guided by Voices through their rock paces in what is both a double album and Bob's 100th release. August By Cake, out Friday, is a grab-bag of all the things that have made various versions of this act so great for so long. It is, also, full of songs -- 32 of them, to be exact -- that bristle and churn with the usual Pollard-penned brilliance. Look, if he wanted to stop while he was ahead, he could slow the train here. But, let's hope he doesn't as most of this is so good that it made me a firm fan of this band all over again.
August By Cake doesn't re-invent the GBV formula, obviously, but it serves as a sort of joyous reminder of what that formula's been all along. "When We All Hold Hands At The End Of The World", for instance, recalls "I Am A Scientist" a tiny bit, while the direct "Overloaded" brings the rock vibe of "Motor Away" back. And that is, really, a lazy way to describe this stuff 'cause, yeah, it sounds like Guided By Voices with little deviation from the sort of template Pollard's been following for 30 years now, roughly.
Still, there are tiny bits here that hint at the frontman's desire to push things in new directions: "West Coast Company Man" echoes Kinks and Stones Sixties sides more obviously than a lot of what Guided By Voices released in the past, while the bright power pop of "Cheap Buttons" seems a whole lot like early Supergrass. The line-up here -- Robert Pollard (vocals), Kevin March (drums), Doug Gillard (guitar), Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar), and Mark Shue (bass) -- gel perfectly on August By Cake and seem to bring a fairly high level of energy to lots of this record. If marvelously-titled lead single "Dr. Feelgood Falls Off The Ocean" chimes with a dash of XTC within its grooves, the fuzzy "Goodbye Note" very nearly stumbles into early Oasis territory with a blurry, woozy sense of pub rock creeping through the riffs. Like the majority of this guy's best compositions, most of what he writes is in some way a homage to early Beatles singles, or glam rock 45's, or classic Kinks rockers.
And, as always, Pollard doesn't just crank out the riff-heavy hits over and over again; he does, certainly, try to change up things throughout parts of the 32-track landscape of this double-album. And so, remarkably, even the mid-tempo numbers on August By Cake seem memorable on early listens: "High Five Hall Of Famers" lurches down those Alien Lanes, while the lovely "The Possible Edge" brings a Fifties-style stroll to the usual Pollard-brand to great effect. All that being said, it's the stompers here, like closer "Escape To Phoenix", that should please long-time fans so much. 'Cause, let's face it: no one has ever so mastered the art of writing the perfect pop song as expertly as Pollard, except perhaps for the boys in The Ramones.
Like most of the very best Guided By Voices releases, August By Cake is full of big tunes wrapped in small indie-pop packages. There's little wasted here and, if anything, Pollard has probably gotten ahead of himself here by releasing a double album this time out. The wildly-prolific god of American alt-rock has hit some kind of peak with this one. What could possibly come next after Robert Pollard's 100th release? Is the next Guided By Voices slab going to be a triple-album, for instance? Whatever Pollard and his army do after this, it's safe to say that August By Cake is yet another Guided By Voices release worth getting wildly excited about. You want the songs that are going to soundtrack your Spring and Summer? Start here.
[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]