Review: Guided By Voices – Sweating The Plague

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For someone that has lived with this the 3rd LP of 2019 from Dayton, OH indie rock luminaries, Guided By Voices since last summer, I sure took my sweet ass time getting around to submitting my unsolicited evaluation. Before I dive in, allow me to digress on a personal note. 2019 has been a tough year for me personally with plenty of ups and downs, with a whole lot of uncertainty as to what the future will hold. So, for this to be the year for my beloved Guided By Voices to deliver three LP’s, It’s not an overstatement to write the following: these albums and the songs that occupy them couldn’t have been released into the world at a better time. In February Robert Pollard and co. kicked off the year with the exceptional 32-track double album, Zeppelin Over China, the hook fest that is Warp and Woof was delivered in April, and last month the band issued their most concise outing since 1987’s , Sandbox with Sweating The Plague. Has anyone ever started review with a thank you? I suppose it doesn’t bode well for objectivity but then again, this blog is in fact named after a Robert Pollard song and after 13 years I feel like you should know what to expect by now. The point I’m struggling to make here is that there is catharsis in music, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be heart on your sleeve confessionalism or cry in your pillow emo, not that there’s anything wrong with that, when executed correctly, of course. The 68 songs that Bob and Guided By Voices unleashed into the world this year gave me something to cling to when I felt like things were slipping from my grasp and when I needed them most, so I am forever grateful for that and for this band I have obsessed over since 1994. Now that I have that off my chest lets proceed headlong into Sweating The Plague.

Unlike last spring’s immediately accessible and infectious Warp and Woof, Sweating The Plague takes a more subtle approach and reveals itself over repeated listens. Not to say there aren’t a handful of instant earworms within. For instance, both Street Party and Ego Central High come charging out the gate with mammoth hooks and stunning melodies. There are still days when I wake up with the latter’s chorus “Find your elevation while you can” bouncing around my head. A fine way to drag oneself out of bed and face the challenge of a brightening new day. Plague’s radio ready, should be hit (if radio didn’t completely suck), Heavy Like The World is a stunning pop song that only Bob Pollard could write and then re-write. The re-recording of The Suitcase 2 gem, I’d Choose You, is the gorgeous centerpiece of Sweating The Plague. Last May I was standing next to the person that will soon be my x-wife at The Paradise in Boston as Doug Gillard began to play the songs opening chords when I caught that look, you know the look, the why are you freaking out look? I was having a moment that will forever be connected to that song. I attempted to explain, turning to her to say it’s I’d choose you! It’s on Suitcase 2! She just nodded, smiled and pretended to care. Before long I realized it wasn’t what I thought it was, it was even better. From that moment on the that balcony with a big part of my past that song instantly became the anthem of an excruciating year, but one that delivered more hope through melancholy and beautiful melodies than anything I’d heard before.
“Heavy like the words on your tattoos”.

Considering the bands output, especially this year, us Guided By Voices fans certainly are a spoiled and lucky lot. Any concern over the albums shorter track listing quickly subsided after spending time with these 12 songs. The line-up of Doug Gillard, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue, and Kevin March continue to shine supplying varied and adroit instrumentation throughout to complement an exceptional song cycle with not one skippable track in the set. Sweating The Plague never loses momentum, in fact as of late I’m completely stuck on the albums final three tracks, with the infectious and anthemic Immortals, My Wrestling Days Are Over which features the band playing along with Bob’s demo giving the track a decidedly lo-fi feel, and my current favorite of the LP, Sons of the Beard, a fantastic multi-part and epic prog rock track, complete with strings and a liberal dose of synth that Keith Emerson would be down with. It’s been a marquee year for Guided By Voices with each of their three releases being as vital and unique as the next but with Sweating The Plague, Guided By Voices delivered something special, an album that is equal parts dense, subtle, and completely exhilarating. Some albums hold extra meaning because they help you get through the hard shit and some albums are special because they contain great songs that stick with you long after the record stops spinning, for me Sweating The Plague is both.

Sweating The Plague can be obtained at Rockathon Records/The Factory Of Raw Essentials

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