Prolificity has seen a dramatic rise in popular music culture over the past year or so. Hip hop artists such as BROCKHAMPTON, Lil Yachty and Trippie Redd have released multiple projects in a year, thus adding to the objectivity of music as a commodity, as well as the disposability of hits. Guided By Voices (GBV) is a band that predates the current trend of prolific artists by around 25 years. Chief singer and songwriter Robert Pollard has towed the boundaries of immediacy in pop music since the early to mid-90s, releasing albums with his band that are now considered classic alternative rock records — Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. These albums came out back-to-back in ‘94 and ‘95 and had 20 and 28 tracks, respectively. Some of these songs were a mere 30 seconds in length, never anywhere above a little over three minutes.
Pulling from all the meaningful pop and alternative stylings from the 60s to the 80s, Pollard crafted a sound for his band completely unlike their peers. While it was uncool to admit that one may have been inspired by the Beatles among the indie crowd at the time, GBV wore their vintage influences proudly on their sleeves.
A breakup, a reunion and another breakup later, Guided By Voices has hopped into 2019 with their fourth iteration of the band. Lead guitarist Doug Gillard and drummer Kevin March both join the band for a second time, Gillard originally playing for the group from ‘97-’04 and March from ‘02-’04. Bassist Mark Shue and rhythm guitarist Bobby Bare Jr. (singer-songwriter in his own right, and son of Bobby Bare Sr) join the band for the first time to round out the line-up. This band has recorded and released four albums up to this point: two in 2017, one in 2018 and one in 2019. That’s right, “Warp And Woof” is the second GBV album of 2019, and seeing as they’re teasing towards another album in 2019, it won’t be the last.
Releasing a letter to GBV fans in late 2018, Pollard detailed what the next year and a half would look like for the band and himself. Three albums in 2019, several reissues of classic Pollard projects, more material from the elusive Cash Rivers and an album in 2020. One of those records, “Warp And Woof,” was to be released as four separate EPs – two in Nov. 2018, and two in Feb. 2019. Each EP would have six songs and completely rearranged in track listing for the full album format. Referring to himself as “Uncle Bob,” Pollard promised music in spades for the coming year, and fans everywhere have been enjoying the EPs, ready to listen to each one put together in a different context.
Warp And Woof is a set of incredibly exciting, catchy and lean pop songs that explore the vast range of alternative rock to create the sonic palette of the album.
“Warp And Woof” harkens back to what GBV does better than anyone – lo-fi indie rock in various styles. While GBV has ventured into writing what could be considered “full length” songs, this album stays true to the short song format of the band’s heyday, with the longest song being two minutes and 31 seconds.
The record kicks off with “Bury The Mouse,” a Sabbath-meets-Stooges fuzz-fest that delivers some killer riffs from Gillard. Following is “Angelic Weirdness,” an extremely infectious post-punk song with a heavy dose of cartoon-y macabre. “Dead Liquor Store” starts as another tight, rigid post-punk rocker but disintegrates wonderfully into an MC5-like jam in three. “Cohesive Scoops,” released as a teaser track in 2018, is a perfect pop song. Very simple, very sweet and does not overstay its welcome. Pollard songwriting 101 should have an introductory chapter surrounding this song.
“Blue Jay House” sounds like a frazzled Elvis Costello song, and “Tiny Apes” sees Gillard using a wah octave effect to make his guitar sound like a screeching monkey. “More Reduction Linda” and “Cool Jewels And Aprons” could soundtrack a surf film off the shore of Malibu, with respective 70s-style harmonies and Weezer-esque riffs giving each track a distinct dimension. Following these tracks is the only song Pollard did not write for the album: a beautiful Gillard instrumental called “It Will Never Be Simple.” This song sounds like the soundtrack to a murder in a Martin Scorsese film, and I cannot get enough of it.
After the instrumental break, the album gets increasingly nuts. Sound effects such as audience cheers (“Coming Back From Now On”) and machines cranking (“The Stars Behind Us”) adorn the final few songs on the record. More post-punk (“Skull Arrow”) and macabre songs (“Time Remains In Central Position”) steal the show before the record concludes with a short power pop gem, with the aptly-named “End It With Light.”
With a total of 24 tracks and only 37 minutes in length to show for it, “Warp And Woof” is a set of incredibly exciting, catchy and lean pop songs that explore the vast range of alternative rock to create the sonic palette of the album. The replay value of this record is not heard of often, and this is not because I often hear new things in the music or the lyrics (Pollard’s words are typically fun nonsense), but because the songs are just that good. For as much record sequencing as Pollard has done in his life, he really does know which of his 5,000+ songs go well together in an album; so much so that he may very well have just put out the album of the year.
Gabe Sagherian is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. GS889554@wcupa.edu