Saturday, December 13, 2014

Motivational Jumpsuits and Cool Planets & Show # 537

The ever prolific Robert Pollard reformed Guided By Voices with their classic 1992-1996 line-up featuring Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, and Kevin Fennell in 2010 for a series of live shows beginning with Matador Records 21st anniversary. In 2012, they returned in recorded form with this line-up for three albums (Let’s Go Eat The Factory, Class Clown Spots A UFO and The Bears For Lunch), in 2013 they released the EP Down By The Racetrack and the album English Little League. This album was rumored to be their last, but 2014 saw the release of two more albums with this line-up Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet (minus Kevin Fennell on drums). This myriad of releases rivals some of the prolific material that the band released during the 90s, but these albums mixed more modern recording techniques with the band’s lo-fi tendencies. After six albums and an EP, Robert Pollard with the reformed line-up announced announced that the band has finally called it quits.

Released in February 2014, Motivational Jumpsuit rivals some of Guided By Voices best material drawing comparisons to material found on 1994’s Bee Thousand, 1995’s Alien Lanes and Under The Bushes Under The Stars from 1996. As with these aforementioned albums, Motivational Jumpsuit features a collection of sometimes ramshackle, lo-fi sounding recordings alongside some more studio-produced sounding efforts. This album also features plenty of Tobin Sprout written songs in conjunction with material by the irreverent Robert Pollard. The album starts off with the echo filled drums and the guitar driven sound of “The Littlest League Possible”. As Pollard alludes to baseball and the music industry at the same time this song features catchy and witty lyrics in less than two minutes (one minute and 18 seconds to be exact). But this song exemplifies what Guided By Voices do best, which are short and straight to the point songs with strong melodic hooks.

“Writer’s Bloc (Psycho All The Time)” features garage rock and post punk jabs as Pollard sings tongue-in-cheek about a subject that we might not ever have thought Robert Pollard would utter. “Planet Score” has to be one of the top songs in the bands catalog as Robert Pollard sings of the haunting musical memories in the present tense with a melodic crunch. Tobin Sprout struts a psychedelic swing in “Jupiter Spin”, a candy coated Byrdsian sound in “Record Level Love”, while “Shine (Tomahawk Breath)” features a slow pop melody with fuzzy distorted Big Star nostalgia. Additionally, Sprout adds to to several of Robert Pollard sung/written tracks on Motivational Jumpsuit such as “I Am Columbus”. These songs in addition to “Vote For Me Dummy”, “Bulletin Borders”, the lo-fi tape flutter Who influenced “Evangeline Dandelion” and the gritty hook-filled “Alex and The Omegas” all count as highlights on this release. With Motivational Jumpsuit, Guided By Voices zip up all the loose ends, but not too tightly. Featuring twenty tracks under forty minutes, this album proves that they can still make a great album twenty-one albums into their career.

In May 2014, Guided By Voices released what is now said to be their last album, Cool Planet. This album differs from the previous five that were released during this 2010-2014 period of the band. It was recorded in a proper studio. While the hiss and fuzziness of their lo-fi style may be missing from this album, the scrappiness and ubiquitous nature of Guided By Voices remains strong here. This album also differs in the line-up, drummer Kevin Fennell is not behind the drum kit for Cool Planet, but Kevin March is. March originally played with GBV from 2002-2004 and was featured on what was labeled their last release in 2004, the psychedelic melancholic Half Smiles Of The Decomposed. Fittingly he returns here for what is said to be the band’s last album, again, but a decade later.

“Authoritarian Zoo” starts off Cool Planet with a gut punch of guitar riffs and drums with a sound somewhat reminiscent to 2004’s “Everybody Thinks I’m A Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)”. This song sonically and lyrically provides something different from the opening moments of the softer dimensions of Half Smiles Of The Decomposed and even Motivational Jumpsuit’s “The Littlest League Possible”. Elements of the song “Motor Away” from 1995’s Alien Lanes pops up on “Hat Of Flames” where Pollard sings of a mysterious character with a “Magic code to the parading masses”. This song ignites with its spark inducing fuzz garage riffs amongst Robert Pollards pop hooks. Amongst the eighteen tracks on Cool Planet, we are also visited by more Tobin Sprout originals. “All American Boy” is a spiraling pop gem featuring vibrating guitar leads and pounding piano, “The Bone Church” shows Sprout spreading his wings on the heavier side of rock, tipping his hat to Black Sabbath and the piano induced “Narrated By Paul”. This song along with several of Sprout’s recent contributions to the reformed GBV have had Beatles references, whether musically or in song title variations. This influence/reference pops up again in the echo and acoustic driven “Ticket To Hide”.

Other tracks worth of note on this album includes the windmill rush of “Pan Swimmer”, “Cream Of Lung”, which seems to compliment Sprout’s “The Bone Church”, and “Males Of Wormwood Mars” which proves to be Cool Planet’s strongest pop success. With its watery verses, and Keith Moon styled drums provided by Kevin March, this song tucks itself away near the end of the album. “Bad Love Is Easy To Do” starts off in a fashion similar to “Teenage FBI”, but showcases the songwriting abilities of Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout as they sing of a love song in a way only they could. This song comes off with an effortless success as it balances jittery verses, pop choruses and calming breakdowns supplied by Tobin Sprout. The album ends with its title track, “Cool Planet”.

On 2004’s Half Smiles Of The Decomposed, “Huffman Flying Field” ended a chapter in the GBV discography as Bob & company sang of visiting mysterious fields and being “Closed and locked up for far too long”. In 2014, “Alex & The Omegas” ended Motivational Jumpsuit with the lyrics “Get out alright/Nothing’s on/Everything’s over/It’s the living end” drawing a gritty connection between the band and their status. Finally on the title track to Cool Planet, the band executes a ramped up fuzzy Who-like pattern in less than two minutes as Pollard sings the abstract lines of “Heroes do matter/Insects do scatter”. If these three songs can show us anything, they reveal a sense of wanting to travel down the same path, but at the same time a desire to stop and change course. Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices have achieved a rarity in music. While at times people identify sameness in the GBV sound there is also diversity in the band’s catchy, aggressive and at times lo-fi approach to music. Lyrically, GBV has ventured into all kinds of territories. We may be saying goodbye to Guided By Voices again, but after the hiss and fade out of another chapter in the Guided By Voices catalog ends, a few lines of “Littlest League Possible” from Motivation Jumpsuit provides us with an abstract clue for Robert Pollard’s approach to music and what GBV fans having been thinking for a long time. “And Meanwhile and after too much/You’d run out of gas/But that’s not possible”.

Guided By Voices Play List:

1. A Salty Salute (Live) (Hardcore UFOS - 2003)
2. Hot Freaks (Bee Thousand - 1994)
3. Everywhere With Helicopter (Universal Truths And Cycles - 2002)
4. Postal Blowfish (Brain Candy Soundtrack - 1996)
5. Draw(In)g To A (W)hole (God Save The Clean - 1997)
6. Cut-Out Witch (Under The Bushes Under The Stars - 1996)
7. Weed King (Propeller - 1992)
8. A Good Flying Bird (Alien Lanes - 1995)
9. The Unsinkable Fats Domino (Let's Go Eat the Factory - 2012)
10. Worm W/ 7 Broken Hearts (Class Clown Spots A UFO - 2012)
11. Liar’s Tale (Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia - 1989)
12. Demons Are Real (Bee Thousand - 1994)
13. Kicker of Elves (Bee Thousand - 1994)
14. Robert Pollard - Back To The Farm (Superman Was A Rocker - 2008)
15. The Other Place (Forever Since Breakfast - 1986)
16. Captains Dead (Devil Between My Toes - 1987)
17. Taco, Buffalo, Birddog and Jesus (Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft - 2000)
18. My Valuable Hunting Knife (7 Inch Version) (Tigerbomb EP - 1995)
19. Shocker In Gloomtown (The Grand Hour EP - 1993)
20. #2 in the Model Home Series (Vampire on Titus - 1993)
21. Drag Days (Under The Bushes Under The Stars - 1996)
22. Drinkers Peace (Same Place The Fly Got Smashed - 1990)
23. Little Whirl (Alien Lanes - 1995)
24. Shine (Tomahawk Breath) (Motivational Jumpsuit - 2014)
25. The Sudden Death Of Epstein’s Ways (English Little League - 2013)
26. Crybaby 4-Star Hotel (English Little League - 2013)
27. Surgical Focus - (Do The Collapse - 1999)
28. Sister, I Need Wine (Isolation Drills - 2001)
29. Girls Of Wild Strawberries (Half Smiles Of The Decomposed - 2004)
30. Can’t Stop (Sandbox - 1987)
31. Sensational Gravity Boy (Briefcase - Suitcase Abridged: Drinks And Deliveries - 2000)
32. I Am A Tree (Mag Earwig! - 1997)
33. I Am A Scientist (Live at X-Fest 1999) (X Fest 99 - 1999)
34. Smoggy Boy (The Bears For Lunch - 2012)
35. Males Of Wormwood Mars (Cool Planet - 2014)
36. Teenage FBI (Original Version) (Wish In One Hand EP - 1997)
37. Game Of Pricks (Alien Lanes - 1995)
38. The Ugly Vision (Alien Lanes - 1995)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for December 13. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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