Robert Pollard is proud to announce that August By Cake is his one hundredth studio album release: pretty ludicrous, especially for a career of just(!) three decades. This one is Pollard’s prime group Guided By Voices, in a fresh new line-up, and it’s their first double album! Yep, still breaking new ground at this advanced hour… Congratulations Mr Pollard!
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Well here it is: the one hundredth album of Robert Pollard. I know. I’ll be honest, I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t name it after any of my suggestions, including ‘Praying Mantis Steals a Dune Buggy’ and ‘Professor of Economics Makes an Emergency Landing’. Frankly, I don’t know how he could resist ‘Ramshackle Airplane Jerk’, but whatever: ‘August By Cake’ is a suitably absurd album name for a band who’ve been through line-ups with men named things like Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell, Tobin Sprout, Kevin Fennell and Don Thrasher.
At this point there’s no real need to give Uncle Bob shit for what he’s doing with the GbV name: he revived the classic line-up for a bunch of sometimes lovely and often garbage albums earlier in the decade, and then spoiled everything by using the name for his solo whims on the dreadful ‘Please Be Honest’. Most of us know GbV is more than just Pollard, in that the bulk of their best songs were written by Tobin Sprout back in day. But it’s fine. It’s fucking fine. Because ‘August by Cake’ is actually nice. Look, there are thirty-two songs and a bunch of new guys I've never heard of: you already know half of the record is gonna be wasted on you. But there are also lovely moments that feel like Pollard victory laps, others that feel like surrealist vignettes of old, and a plethora of GbV self-parody.
The first signs that Pollard remembers what his band sounded like in their lopsided R.E.M love-affair days is on “When We Hold Hands at the end of the World”, whose buzzy chord sequence recalls “Game of Pricks” with a beefy ‘Isolation Drills’ production. “Goodbye Note” is quite pretty indeed before it goes wacky with the guitar solo. Now it’s over to idiot Bob for the needlessly dissonant, backwardly produced, noise-filled “Packing the Dead Zone”, and let’s just check in on acoustic sadboy Bob on “What Begins on New Year’s Day”. Whichever one you like best, he’s very much here -- at times it feels like he’s trying very hard to be here for every past version of himself, and I can’t help but admire that willingness to reconnect with what his band meant, if anything.
We’ll have to listen to it more, especially as Pollard has invited other members of the band to write, play and sing on this one? Ghastly. “Sentimental Wars” is lovely and features one of his sweet-voiced buddies taking centre-stage, suddenly abandoning the old GbV aesthetic and simultaneously reminding us of how shambolic it was in the first place. Anything fucking goes. It’s not even August.
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- August By Cake by Guided By Voices
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