Robert Pollard slams his hand down hard on the top of his guitar amplifier. Sweat pours from his brow; his eyes, heavily-bagged from the sleepless nights, glower with deranged intensity; his clothes are now but rags, ripped and filthy.
‘Again! Dammit, again! We’ll play … the songs … again.’
‘B… but Robert’, pipes up one of his fellow Guided By Voices members - it’s hard to tell which seeing as all of the band are now a huddled mass, cowering in the darkest corner of the rehearsal room - ‘Robert, we’re exhausted. We’ve been in this room for three days, playing melodious indie-rock in the Hüsker Dü/Pavement mould non-stop, and we simply can’t go on any further. We need rest. We need food. We need to see our families. We’ve already released two LPs in 2019 anyway - isn’t that enough?’
‘No!’ shouts Robert, punching a hole in the wall to emphasise his point. ‘No. We go again. We’ll be in here rehearsing our new record Sweating The Plague until it’s done, and it’s done why I say it’s done. Kapeesh?’
‘Y… yes Robert.’
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In the sense that I’m not really familiar with Guided By Voices I’m something of an anomaly when it comes to those in the orbit of Norman Records™. My knowledge of the band is limited - I know that their lineup revolves around Robert Pollard, I know that they have released approximately 7 millions records, and I know that those records generally sound a bit like early R.E.M. - and I’ve heard little of their music. Now, the time has come for me to give them a go in earnest, and I’m starting with their third LP of 2019 ‘Sweating The Plague’.
‘Sweating The Plague’ is an impressive record of alternative rock, full of confident playing and songwriting. While you wouldn’t quite describe these songs as innovative, some of the structural choices are certainly unusual. While grungy garage-punk is the core style, tracks often veer between sections in pleasantly surprising ways. Cuts such as ‘Heavy Like The World’ and ‘Ego Central High’ take many interesting left-turns, often changing tempo and rarely returning to a previous idea. At times some of Pollard’s choices are pretty daring, too - ‘Mother’s Milk Elementary’ begins with an extended, folkish acapella before swelling into the sort of drunken brass march that graced many a Tom Waits album in the 80s. It’s a highlight for sure.
If all Guided By Voices records are as good as ‘Sweating The Plague’ then I might have to dedicate a bit (aka a lot) of time picking through their back-catalogue. Consider me a convert.
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