Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I Discovered Lightning In A Jar: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Guided By Voices

The new record by Guided By Voices, Space Gun, out on Friday via Rockathon, is exactly the sort of record one would expect this band to make after the superb one-two punch of August By Cake and How Do You Spell Heaven in 2017. Space Gun is the sound of a group throttling things into overdrive after catching their second -- or third, or fifth, or twelfth -- wind. In very simple terms, Space Gun is the punchiest and most obviously rockin' record that Robert Pollard has been a part of since, perhaps, one of those Boston Spaceships releases a few years ago. If the last 2 GBV albums were, respectively, attempts by this crew to try their hand at Beatles-style classic rock and Yellow Pills-inspired power-pop, Space Gun is the group's roaring pillage of post-punk, echoes of Big Dipper and hardcore records brushing up against each other as Uncle Bob rifles through rock's past.

From the Ziggy-nods of the opening title cut, and on to the soaring "See My Field", Pollard and his mates -- Doug Gillard, Kevin March, Mark Shue, and Bobby Bare Jr. -- seem to have found new chords with which to build fresh -- and HUGE -- hooks. Gloriously tuneful, these 2 numbers on their own make Space Gun an obvious addition to any list of the best records of 2018. Elsewhere, the faux-glam-stomp of "Colonel Paper" sits easily next to the rippling "King Flute", a nice throwback to the styles of Mag Earwhig!-era offerings from Pollard and company. The more complicated "Sport Component National" packs a bunch of riffs from Tommy into a compact form, Pollard here offering up something that both feels familiar and a touch different, even as the cut segues into the silly-but-fun "I Love Kangaroos", one of those effortlessly-perfect Pollard compositions that one expects on each release from the legend.

And while a reviewer of Space Gun would be remiss for not highlighting the sharp Who-like chord changes of "Flight Advantage", or the expansive rambles of "Evolution Circus", lots of ink will likely be rightly spent by reviewers on "That's Good", one of Bob's best ballads in decades. More "Don't Stop Now" than "Hold On Hope", "That's Good" sees Pollard seize a melody that seems like something Lennon would have latched onto in his later years, around the time that the boys in Cheap Trick briefly acted as his backing band. The cut, a clear highlight of Space Gun, marries Pollard's appreciation of classic rock-era songwriting with his ability to routinely and consistently conjure a sound that owes as much to, say, mid-period Husker Du as it does to ELO.

Robert Pollard is surely some sort of wizard, one assumes when listening to Space Gun, his latest dabbling in the power-pop dark arts. Marvelously assured, this LP is the sort of thing that Pollard and his crew need to produce more of. Concise but not lean, adventurous but not indulgent, the music on Space Gun is some of the best that Robert Pollard has composed in years, the players here firing on all cylinders behind him. To long-time fans, I'd simply say that this is the sort of combo of Alien Lanes-era GBV and Boston Spaceships stuff that lots of us longed for. Which is to say that Space Gun is a superb record, and one that stands as a clear peak in the output of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices in the 21st century.

Space Gun is out on Friday via Rockathon Records.

More details on Guided By Voices via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited photo from the band's official Facebook page]