The genius of Robert Pollard is a perennial thing. And while he's prolific, he's not always as prolific as he is poised to be in 2019. The first of three Guided By Voices releases set for 2019, and just a mere month or so removed from the release of their last two superb EP offerings, the band is set to drop the epic Zeppelin Over China this Friday. The 32-track monster is a double-album that covers the entire breadth of Pollard's landscape of composition. It is also a pretty good showcase for the talents of the other players here, with Doug Gillard (guitar), Bobby Bare, Jr. (guitar), Mark Shue (bass), and Kevin March (drums) relishing every twist and turn found on the tunes on this sprawling record.
Lots of these tracks were trotted out on the band's recent tour dates, and hearing something like "You Own The Night" in its finished form reveals a more focused, tighter number than the one played in concert. Similarly, the lyrical "My Future In Barcelona" echoes both "My Valuable Hunting Knife" and "Echoes Myron" before it explodes in an exquisite chorus. The cut is modulated, with Pollard seemingly drawing out the power-pop richness as the band fires up behind him. Elsewhere, recent live fave "The Rally Boys" positively rocks, the band's best slab of direct Who-like rock they've put forward in at least a year. "Everything's Thrilling" is, like compositions on Space Gun, full of bits that seem to directly reference old Townshend-penned singles, while "Questions Of The Test" is even harder, drummer March and bassist Shue anchoring things behind an attack of ragged guitars from Gillard and Bare.
And while it's fun to focus on just the obvious, punchiest numbers here on Zeppelin Over China, a record like this, of this length, also obviously contains loads of other, more intricate tracks. The light "Bellicose Starling" pursues an easy hook through near-folk-y folds of music, while the excellent "Nice About You" is a bit of not-too-complex post-punk, the twists-and-turns giving way to moments that are nearly cathartic.
I suppose one can detect some diversions here from the band's last few records. Things are (at moments) murkier, and closer to what one heard on, say, Bee Thousand of Alien Lanes than anything else, with Robert Pollard pushing this excellent line-up of the group to stretch as players, a bit. Zeppelin Over China *seems* a new start in spots, with stuff like "Holy Rhythm" and "Lurk of the Worm", for instance, pointing towards a more exploratory approach for GBV.
Still, for all that, Bob Pollard isn't going to mess with success too much with this set of guys around him. With this group firing on all cylinders throughout Zeppelin Over China, the usual GBV thrills are offered up, even amid fuzzier work-outs, or bits of quick, power-pop. Twenty years ago, Pollard and his fellas would have served up 32 tracks in 40 minutes, or something, but now he's content to let this material breathe where it needs to. And given the skills of this line-up, that makes perfect sense. Zeppelin Over China is a record to get lost in, a release that gives up enough in terms of listening pleasure, that surely fans of any of this band's many eras will be able to find lots to love here.
Zeppelin Over China is out on Friday via Rockathon Records.
More details on Guided By Voices via GuidedByVoices.com.
For information on Robert Pollard's artwork, check RobertPollardArt.com.
[Photos: Guided By Voices at Black Cat in D.C., October 2018, by me]