How does a writer stay objective when tackling the latest recording from an artist that he’s been passionately following for over 20 years? It’s arduous task no doubt, especially with the singular work ethic and output of Robert Pollard, but one I’ll happily embrace. Whether you are an obsessive that collects original pressings of Acid Ranch, Nightwalker, and Cash Rivers or merely a fan of the mid-90’s trifecta of Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under The Bushes, Under The Stars this latest collection requires your immediate and uninterrupted attention. The material found on Space Gun equates to one of Pollard’s best outings in recent memory and one that can sit proudly next to the band most revered recordings. A logical and exhilarating next step to last year’s How Do You Spell Heaven? and August By Cake.
With the news of Space Gun, also came the caveat that this would be the only Guided By Voices album released in 2018, a newsworthy event unto itself. Over past month or so, I have had the opportunity to really dig in to this LP and that decision seems warranted and necessary. It’s fair to assume that Bob has another album in the can but it’s telling that instead of rolling into his next side project or another GBV release he is exhibiting restraint to give the songs that occupy Space Gun their due. I recall reading that Matador had tried and failed to temper Bob’s release schedule during GBV’s 90’s stint with the label, I guess that goes to show us all, that only Bob can hold back the flood.
Normally on first exposure to a Pollard related release there are those tracks that jump out immediately and then there are the growers that slowly unveil themselves over repeated listening. With Space Gun nearly every song has immediate charms and considerable hooks. The album opens with the sound of an automatic hand towel dispenser before chiming guitars and strong rhythms take hold while Pollard delivers a commanding vocal on the title track and drives the four minute song headlong to a glorious conclusion with the refrain “ all day long…”. From there the album is off and running at a brisk pace before slowing slightly at the blissfully melodic and hook laden Ark Technician. The current lineup of Guided By Voices is a formidable one to say the least and they provide varied and charging instrumentation to accompany one of Pollard’s finest songs cycles. On Liar’s Box Pollard delivers in my estimation a standout on album full of standouts. A song that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on Universal Truths and Cycles or Earthquake Glue. The track begins with angular guitar lines, throbbing bass, and pounding drums before Pollard steals the show with a soaring chorus that proves to be the LP’s most euphoric moment, only to be heightened by a sensational closing guitar coda from Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr. On Sport Component National GBV delivers a 3 part rock opera that distills Bob’s prog, psych and pop leanings beautifully into a 3 minute fist pumping anthem. Then comes That’s Good, a track that first came to light on GBV’s Suitcase 3 in its skeletal form, but on Space Gun the track is given the full band treatment complete with strings and the results are staggering. To my ears, the melancholy drenched track is a distant cousin to the GBV classic If We Wait with immaculate production, courtesy of Travis Harrison. Throughout this LP, Pollard leads this incarnation of GBV through a varied and exhilarating 15 songs in 39 minutes, but not a second is wasted. Space Gun is a herculean rock record that is equal parts power and beauty from the unparalleled creative force of Robert Pollard.
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