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Guided By Voices
Welshpool Frillies Jon Buckland , July 27th, 2023 07:59

The stakhanovite productivity of Robert Pollard shows few signs of letting up. Long may it continue, says Jon Buckland

As it’s been thirty years since Robert Pollard jacked in his teaching job, you'd think that people would stop bleating on about his previous role as an educator. Yet here I am, listening to his twelfth album in four years, contemplating what that output would look like if his creative opportunities were stalled by school holidays. Not that Guided By Voices were particularly sedate during that era – they still churned out seven albums in as many years. Based on this, you might think it would be easy to batter them with the quantity-over-quality baton. But that stick’s only valid if the records that they put out aren’t up to scratch. Which they are. Sometimes, as is the case with La La Land from this January, even sloshing up against the high water marks of their mid-90s releases.

GBV have always had an ear for a hook, no matter how odd or off-kilter. This is epitomised here in the infectious refrain of Welshpool Frillies’ opening track – “Meet the star, his plectrum strums are universal” – which, alongside a chonky riff and a rollicking bassline, will worm its way into your cranium and set up camp. Conversely, whilst still locking into a groove or two, GBV tend to ditch out of jams early, avoiding the pitfalls of a band outstaying their welcome with indulgent noodling.

Guided By Voices have survived not so much by evolving but by absorbing influences as they steadily revolve. There’s a touch of Joy Division’s spray can on ‘Rust Belt Boogie’, its percussive metal shots punctuating intertwining guitar melodies, and the central riff on ‘Romeo Surgeon’ sounds like it’s been lifted from a Neil Young-led 70s hard rock trio. Other inspirations are more surprising. There are Dude Ranch era Blink 182-style guitars on ‘Why Won’t You Kiss Me?’ and we’re led into ‘Don’t Blow Your Dream Job’ by short, staccato stabs reminiscent of Supergrass’s ‘Alright’. And there even appears to be a Suede rebuttal in the shape of ‘Animal Concentrate’, during which the surreal line “Look under the rug – the kingdom’s shaping up” emerges amidst buzzsaw distortion.

And, true to their name, it’s in this kind of sparkling lyrical display that Guided By Voices shine brightest. ‘Mother Mirth’’s flowing linguistic labyrinth provides the album’s pictorial apex as it builds to this haunting statement of desperate loss: “On the morning of the aftermath, our goal was to keep everything.” Often landing on rare combinations of eloquent beauty, other similarly strange, seemingly disparate allusions tactfully surge around their specific subjects, swaddling Pollard’s vocals with a poetic air of mystery.

Welshpool Frillies (that wording itself an intriguing prospect) is peppered with powerful language hinting at events untold, slotting together in surprising mixtures, shapes, and forms. Sure, there's the odd track that feels a little phoned in (the palm-muted slog of ‘Cats On Heat’, for example) but when the hit rate is this high and there’s still mystique and gut-punch intimations wrapped up within these beguiling twists of phrase, then why not keep the faucet gushing and let the waters rise?