Rather like Mark E Smith, Robert Pollard has a habit of pulling out a plum just when you are thinking it's all over. Re-grouped and re-invigorated with an (almost) all new line up, last years August By Cake was more like the band we remembered and hot on it's heels we get another. Fifteen new tunes from the fab (insert this week's line up number).
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He just won’t stop keeping on. You’d think after a centennial celebration he’d be down to lie low for a while, but Uncle Bob is nothing without an outstayed welcome. Back after the overlong but moderately enjoyed ‘August By Cake’, his one hundredth album in total, Robert Pollard puts out yet another record in his efforts to lightly but not too significantly besmirch the Guided By Voices name. ‘How Do You Spell Heaven?’ is exactly what we have been describing all of his recent work to be to you: it varies in quality to an almost infuriating degree, but at least it’s consistent in its pointlessness.
He can still write the odd good song, it’s true: it’s usually when he embraces an acoustic guitar for an extended stretch of seconds. For the most part, though, Pollard has ditched his moodier, more introspective songwriting style and amped up the side of him that likes making guitar-churning dirge. The result is records that are largely dull, lifeless and, like, annoyingly heavy -- not in the music sense, just in the sense you’re carrying a weight you’d rather not be carrying when they’re on. Even acoustic numbers such as “Tenth Century” feel like they’re being held under this dominion, Pollard thrashing at his strums and leering overtop.
At points, this record is the opposite, and I’m glad: lethargy disappears and a song like “Diver Dan” comes along, which, while not melodically interesting, feels free and loose and energetic. The low-key melancholy of “Nothing Gets You Real”, with its lilting chord sequence and gently devastating guitar solos, reminds me of why I keep coming back: that expectation that each new record will throw up one of my favourite ever GbV songs. I’m glad moments like these exist: I just want them to exist on their own. In 2018, please make Pollard even again.
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- How Do You Spell Heaven by Guided By Voices
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