Showing posts with label Pollard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pollard. Show all posts

Thursday, June 5, 2014

REVIEW: Eureka California - Crunch


Crunch marks the 2nd Eureka California album in 18 months. Their previous album was Big Cats Can Swim - WYMA post here. Like that one, this one has plenty of guitar fuzz and in-the-red vocals from Jake Ward and features the excellent drumming of Marie A. Uhler. They sound like kids who got a lot out of the time they spent listening to every punk and lo-fi postpunk record they could get their hands on - Ramones, Stooges, Replacements... with a healthy dose of power-pop (Peter Case, maybe)... but in synthesizing influences, they put together a distinctive sound. The opening track "Edith (One Day You'll Live In a Bunker)", and in fact, several tracks on this record, put me in mind of The Violent Femmes - there's an unapologetic fury, leavened with a sense of humor and self-deprecation, and the ability to generate a ton of noise, sometimes with nothing more than a drum kit, acoustic guitar and vocals.

Listen to "Twin Cities":



But that's an incomplete comparison, because some of the heavier stuff more closely resembles Propeller-era Guided by Voices. Check out "Happy Again":



And as an added bonus - not on this album but recorded as an outtake from Big Cats Can Swim, here is their reverent, ragged cover of GbV's "Game of Pricks":



I've heard a lot to like on their first two albums - not only the irrepressible spirit that Eureka California shares in common with some of those musical precursors, but some real musical talent and the ability to write some catchy guitar hooks. You don't find that combination every day, so celebrate when you do. It's on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records, out of Athens.

Eureka California website
Bandcamp
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HHBTM Records

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

REVIEW: Guided by Voices: Cool Planet


When you've given up being surprised that the artist formerly and currently (but for a while in the middle there, not) known as Guided by Voices (with the reunited, 2010-to-present "Classic Lineup") has released another stellar album of crackling guitar rock, you, like me, will just sit down, listen and try to evaluate it on its own terms. But, hey, Cool Planet is their second FULL album in the first five months of 2014 and their sixth since the reunited lineup started issuing new material in 2012. So surprise is a proper reaction, to be certain. As is joy, once you get into the album a little bit.

Lead track "Authoritarian Zoo" is a Who-style rocker, drums flailing and guitars blazing, to kick things off with a shot of adrenaline. "Fast Crawl" is a sludgy rocker clocking in at 1:42 that does a nice job of transitioning from the former to Tobin Sprout's fantastic "Psychotic Crush" - with a guitar line straight out of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie and a reverb-heavy Sprout vocal, it's as glam a track as GbV have done. So, the perfect antidote is a sweet acoustic Pollard ballad, "Costume Makes the Man", which features a nice lazy guitar line over the outro.

There are little touches throughout Cool Planet, the kinds of things that diehard GbV fans have come to almost take for granted. However, I don't know a GbV fan who dares take this bounty for granted. We are, to a man, properly grateful... which is not to say we don't expect four to six albums a year. We do. It's just that we're grateful for them, too.

Here's "Table at Fool's Tooth" - a 1:21 heavy rocker that changes at least three times:



And here's "Bad Love is Easy To Do" - a repeated, insistent guitar line under an understated vocal that bursts into a full rock track - the drumming is especially tasty on this one:



Cool Planet is out now on GBV, Inc. in the US and Fire Records in the UK. As with the last five albums, it's got a great mix of Pollard and Sprout tunes, high quality playing and plenty of energy. In other words, it meets the high standard set by Classic Lineup GbV and augurs well for the planned live dates for summer 2014. More about the album, upcoming dates and other projects at the band's sites below.

Guided by Voices website
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Rockathon
Fire Records

Friday, February 21, 2014

REVIEW: Guided by Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit


Since Guided by Voices reunited the "Classic Lineup" in 2011, they've released five albums. And they've all been very good to great, a trend that continues on Motivational Jumpsuit, the latest one. Right off the bat, there's a statement of purpose that is about as up-front as any of Robert Pollard's lyrics have ever been:

Gonna have a lot of fun
Gonna hit a home run
In the littlest league possible




Because if the majors aren't ready, willing or (more to the point) able to appreciate your awesome stuff, why deprive those of us in the Texas League of those knee-buckling curves and teeth-rattling brushback pitches? An ace is an ace, after all.

In a way, this album is a celebration of everything that's ever been great about GbV: short, catchy songs, a variety of ragged, glorious guitar riffs and an overdose of melody. "Planet Score" is a collection of big-time guitar riffs with Pollard's shouted British accent vocals:


"Vote For Me Dummy" could fit in with the best stuff on Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, but there are also tracks here that bear the imprint of Big Rock Bob from the "hi-fi" era: album closer "Alex and the Omegas", with its glossy guitars and fully loaded vocals, would fit in on Do the Collapse or Isolation Drills. Speaking of those albums, by the way, it's not like Bob didn't give the major leagues a chance to appreciate his devastating collection of out pitches, is it?



Also continuing a recent trend, there are five creamy, delightful, psychedelic contributions from Tobin Sprout, whose facility with vocal harmony has never been better than it is on "Some Things Are Big and Some Things Are Small". That one builds to an almost unbearably sweet crescendo of multi-tracked Sprout vocals, whereas "Jupiter Spin" is a bit more guitar-based.

With 20 tracks, song lengths that vary from 1:12 to 3:03, it doesn't take long to get into this album. As always, the band makes big melodies but doesn't need to linger... somehow, throughout Pollard's career, it has been a truism that his 1:30 or 2:00 packs more hooks and melodies than most artists can cram into 3:30, and Motivational Jumpsuit is no exception. It's out this week (Feb. 18) and available via GBV Digital and Rockathon.

Guided by Voices website
Rockathon Records
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Monday, November 4, 2013

REVIEW: Circus Devils - My Mind Has Seen The White Trick and When Machines Attack


It's been two years since the last Circus Devils release, Capsized! so of course it's time for two albums in one day - 36 songs of Circus Devils hard/prog rock weirdness. Of all Robert Pollard's projects, Circus Devils seems to be where his hard rock muse spends the most time, but it's also the project with the most pure creativity. Evidence of the former - My Mind Has Seen The White Trick's "Deliver Ice Cream (You Must)" channels Motorhead in a delightful way, while "Mine" is a quieter track with some strange found sounds in the background, akin to something like "Ex-Supermodel" (to use a GbV reference, if that helps). And "Great Orphan" is just a big, strong ballad, proving that in no way are Circus Devils limited to bludgeoning you with hard rock or diverting you with strangeness. Sometimes in the same track, they transition from one to the other: "It Is Not Necessary" is a perfect example, where the hard stuff starts the track, then yields to the narrative, and both sides come together to close it out with a downright pleasant keyboard line behind it all. They are making delightful music on this record. In other words, Circus Devils are real. But, again, real strange. "Bird Zone":



The album features 19 tracks, and plenty of highlights - the electric piano on "Bird Zone", the guitars on "We'd Be Alright", the Captain Beefheart-inspired, unhinged weirdness of "Skyclops", and a sort of campfire singalong, "Eddie's Derangement" - love the acoustic guitar line in this one.

Obviously, a lot of the credit goes to his co-conspirator, Todd Tobias. And we've had evidence of Tobias' creativity apart from Pollard, too - we reviewed his album Medicine Show, and found many of the same strange and delightful characteristics that make Circus Devils' appeal so strong (and admittedly, to such a limited audience).


Along those lines, the second album, When Machines Attack, is the more "Circus Devils-y" of the two, featuring spoken word intro "Beyond the Sky" and a story line that seems to contemplate the uprising of our cars, perhaps in league with an alien race. The sheer terror in Pollard's voice in the next track as he intones the title "You're Not a Police Car" sets the tone. We would seem to be in line to be rescued (or attacked) by Bad Earthman, Craftwork Man (not Kraftwerk Man, though certainly there's plenty of krautrock influence all throughout the Devils' canon), Johnny Dart and Blood Dummies. Each song is a trip, and most of them are strange. Check out "We're Going Inside the Head of a Winner" - there is a nice Pollard ballad in there somewhere, but also plenty of strange effects and horror-movie elements:



The title track's an absolute keeper - it's one of the tracks that stands alone, even while serving as the pivotal track on this concept (?) album. And "Wizard Hat Lost in the Stars" is potentially that "all-time" Pollard ballad that will assume a spot on the never-ending playlist. It has echoes of "May We See the Hostage" from previous Devils record The Harold Pig Memorial, which is one of my favorite Devils tracks, or a GbV track like "Acorns and Orioles".

According to Sgt. Disco, the correspondent at the Circus Devils website, "The car is a metaphor here, in case that needed to be explained. The theme can be described as a trip into the present by way of the future. This is the opposite of a trip into the future by way of the present, something we all think we are familiar with." If you're willing to take the trip by listening to the album, this might make sense. Then again, it might not. But at least you'll have spent the time listening to a Circus Devils album, which is a good thing.

These records are out now (released 10/29) on Happy Jack Rock Records, and available at Rockathon and GBV Digital.

Circus Devils website
Circus Devils at Rockathon Records

Thursday, September 12, 2013

REVIEW: Tommy Keene - Excitement At Your Feet


Tommy Keene is a guitar rocker extraordinaire, and his best power pop is as good as that stuff gets. His latest album, Excitement At Your Feet, consists of covers, some well-known, some that would considered "obscurities" by most rock fans, but all of them just fantastic. In fact, this might be the best album I've heard in 2013 -- and I've heard a lot. From the outset, where The Flamin' Groovies "Have You Seen My Baby?" is interpreted as one of the best barroom rock-outs you will hear this year, it's off to the races.



Of particular note is the drumming of Rob Brill, whose work on that song, as well as "Choking Tara" and especially "Out of the Blue" help transform them into something that, while certainly indebted to the originals, is in a way, more powerful. Keene recorded most of the album himself, but apparently the drums were done at Ardent Studios... like so many other great things.

Here's "Choking Tara" - you could damn near overdose on the guitar jangle:



And here's what has turned out to be my favorite, a straight-ahead guitar rock take on Roxy Music's "Out of the Blue" - a great song, and this is one of those covers that made me go back and "reappreciate" what has always been one of my favorite Roxy Music songs. The drumming, especially, is spectacular, and the guitars just soaring:



There are a few slower, frankly very pretty cuts: Donovan's "Catch The Wind" features some tasteful acoustic guitar with Keene's vulnerable vocal, and a piano-based version of the Bee Gee's "I Laugh In Your Face" is a majestic power ballad based on an early Beatles-inspired bit of psychedelic folk rock from the Brothers Gibb. And his take on Big Star's "Nighttime" is right on - capturing the pathos inherent in the Big Star story that's been rehashed so much this year.

Here's the tracklist:

1. Have You Seen My Baby? - The Flamin’ Groovies
2. The Puppet - Echo & The Bunnymen
3. Much Too Much - The Who
4. I Laugh In Your Face - The Bee Gees
5. Let Me Dream If I Want To - Mink DeVille
6. Catch The Wind - Donovan
7. Guiding Light - Television
8. Ride On Baby - The Rolling Stones
9. Choking Tara - Guided By Voices
10. Nighttime - Big Star
11. Out Of The Blue - Roxy Music

As they say, not a speck of cereal. Before I popped the disc in, I knew Keene covering Roxy Music was going to be something special. He has impeccable songwriting chops, and even though this is a covers album, his creativity and songcraft are fully evident. There's a reason Robert Pollard was willing to take his name on the Keene Brothers record, isn't there? But on Excitement At Your Feet, I think it is possible that his taste in songs is even better.

This is a guitar rock fan's dream come true. It's got Who and Stones cuts that are just old enough that I welcome an update. It features down-and-dirty rock anthems by The Flamin' Groovies and Mink DeVille. And I haven't even mentioned how good the Echo & The Bunnymen cover is. And Television's "Guiding Light"! Swirling, whirling oceans of guitar jangle, perfect pacing and a vocal that is just different enough from Verlaine's to make you reconsider this great song a bit. You know how good this record is? While I'm listening to it (the Roxy and GbV cuts in particular), I don't want to listen to anything else.

Tommy Keene website
Second Motion Records

Sunday, July 28, 2013

REVIEW: Teenage Guitar - Force Fields At Home


A friend of mine is fond of expressing the sentiment that this is a very blessed time for fans of goofy, literate, well-crafted guitar rock... because we are fortunate indeed to share the planet with Robert Pollard and a number of record labels who are willing to let him release a seemingly unlimited number of records. Well, here we go again: Teenage Guitar is the name of this project, and the album is Force Fields At Home.

Teenage Guitar is mainly Robert Pollard, with some help from Greg Demos and Joe Patterson on drums and bass, respectively. All else is Pollard, and it's one of his more peripatetic releases, with a delightful variety of tempos and instrumentation. 

The opening track, "Court of Lions", is a fairly conventional Pollard guitar rock song with a strong vocal. The longest song "Come See The Supermoon" is one of the weirdest, and of course this album contains some of the ultra-short gems that Pollard and GbV fans are accustomed to expecting: "Strangers For A Better Society" and "Peter Pan Can" get to the point quickly, the latter with a double-tracked Pollard British-accented vocal, an insistent tension/release guitar line and just a bit of chaos. Taking the trend to what might be its ultimate conclusion, "Bars of Meaningless Matilda" is just a perfect :34 of guitar pop with no frills at all. This leads into a pretty, acoustic number "Harvest Whale" - with the pleasing sounds of acoustic guitars and vocals offset by what sounds like a struck spring or one of those giant plastic microphones.

Here's "Atlantic Cod", a majestic psych/pop song:


In short, the album covers the four P's and is a delightful mixture of oddities and delights - and being released on the same day as the previously-covered Honey Locust Honky Tonk, it merely confirms my friend's observation: these are special times indeed. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

REVIEW: Robert Pollard - Honey Locust Honky Tonk


Robert Pollard's 19th solo outing is Honey Locust Honky Tonk. As has been the case for quite some time, Pollard is perfectly willing to get his Circus Devils in his Pollard, or his Boston Spaceships in his GbV. There is a certain amount of cohesion within some of the projects, given the changes in personnel, but in reality, the creativity and imagination of Robert Pollard is the base upon which every single one of these seemingly hundreds of albums is built.

Honey Locust Honky Tonk is a Robert Pollard solo album, in the same vein as previous great Pollard solo works like Kid Marine and Waved Out, and the good news is, it's of that quality, too. But like any really good Pollard project, the album features a number of curveballs. "He Requested Things," and "Circus Green Machine" are abstract, mostly acoustic numbers, but not entirely - the opening track features some nice rock guitar and an impassioned Pollard vocal:



"Suit Minus the Middle" and "Who Buries the Undertaker" are brief, rocking and upbeat, and the latter song will probably be my favorite song on the album at some point. But neither is as upbeat as the bouncy, poppy "She Hides in Black" - the rhythm track to that one wouldn't be out of place in Hall & Oates' catalog, but it also contains a heavy dose of prog, as does the song immediately following, "Her Eyes Play Tricks on the Camera". Like I said, curveballs... "Find a Word" is melodic and beautiful, with a nice acoustic guitar line, but also an undercurrent of menace. As with the six albums he released last year under various names, there are just about 17 potential favorite songs on this album, and plenty of killer one-two punches he's so fond of delivering... an example being the short, acoustic "Shielding Whatever Needs You" into the single "I Killed a Man Who Looks Like You", a pretty, country-inflected acoustic ballad:



That one sets up the last three tracks: the full-sounding singalong "Real Fun Is No One's Monopoly" and the well-sung ballad "It Disappears in the Least Likely Hands (We May Never Not Know),"  The longest track on the record, the majestic ballad "Airs" does a nice job of summing up the proceedings.

Apparently Honey Locust Honky Tonk is an album title that he's been waiting to use for 20 years. Can you imagine being productive, creative and fecund enough to keep a title that whimsical in reserve for 20 years? I recently saw an interview with a couple of rock musicians, one of whom described the difficulty he has in coming up with new ideas after having written over 200 songs. Robert Pollard writes 200 songs for breakfast. And the question remains: how can they all be so good?

It's out today (July 9) on GBV, Inc. and available via Rockathon.

Robert Pollard website
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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer Mixtape EP - Free download from The Dirty Nil - including GbV cover!


Hamilton-based punk band The Dirty Nil has just released a new 4-song mixtape EP - they're covering some outstanding punk and garage rock from The Misfits, Iggy Pop, Guided By Voices, and Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard? Well, honestly, songs don't get much more punk than "Mama Tried". Haggard blurred the line between country and rock, and in the history of rock lyrics, the line "I turned 21 in prison" is one of the all-time best:



Here's "Game of Pricks". There was exactly zero chance I wouldn't post this thing - their cover is really good. Energetic, with good guitar tones and vocal harmonies:



And here's a video for "Zombie Eyed", a song from their split single we shared earlier this year (WYMA post here):



The Summer Mixtape and the previous single are available for "name your price" or free download at Bandcamp. And The Dirty Nil is definitely on our radar.

If you're in Canada, make note of their "Assholes of Summer Tour":

JULY 18: TORONTO, ON - MAGPIE TAPROOM
AUG 8: GUELPH, ON - VAN GOGH'S EAR
AUG 10: LONDON, ON - THE APK
AUG 14: WINDSOR, ON - FM LOUNGE
AUG 16: HAMILTON, ON - THE CASBAH
AUG 17: ST. CATHERINES, ON - MANSION HOUSE

The Dirty Nil Bandcamp
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Monday, April 29, 2013

REVIEW: Guided by Voices - English Little League


By now, especially if you pay attention to the comings and goings of Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices, you may have already heard 5 of the 17 tracks on English Little League, and you're wondering what kind of sonic delights GbV have given us to accompany them. You won't be disappointed. 

The opening track is "Xeno Pariah" - one of the previously released singles that's jangly and short and sweet. It's a classic Pollard guitar pop track with at least two expansive yet economical guitar lines and bass/drum work that's perfectly-played - in and out in 2:03, almost before you can shake your head and wonder, again, how the hell he keeps coming up with these:



And, as on albums like Alien Lanes, it melts into the following track "Know Me As Heavy", which features slurred vocals from both Sprout and Pollard over meandering guitar lines that, about 45 seconds in, build to a hard rock frenzy, including the first appearance of cowbell that I can recall since "Rhine Jive Click"! (did I say "Auditorium"?)

Next comes one of the creamiest, catchiest Sprout tracks ever - one of the singles, "Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)" - it's British Invasion guitar pop with impeccable vocal harmonies:



Followed by a proggy Pollard single, "Trash Can Full of Nails" - but of course, not all proggy, as it features a jangly chorus:



Followed by a guitar/vocal track "Send to Celeste (And The Cosmic Athletes)" - it's played pretty much as a demo for about the first 1:15, then the drums, bass and full guitar sounds kick in as it builds to a crescendo, strips back down to guitar only behind more stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and builds to about a 20-second full-band outro. Like a lot of great GbV songs, it's composed of what sound like three or four separate songs that are woven together seamlessly. And if all you pay attention to are the singles, you'll rob yourself of the fun of discovering a different favorite track on each listen - like the next track, a Sprout psychedelic guitar jam "Quiet Game" that finds him sounding, to me, a bit like Syd Barrett... yes, it will be my favorite at some point. As will the next one, one of the singles, "Noble Insect". It is nearly an epic GbV track - interestingly, it starts out very much like a vintage Tobin Sprout track, until a Pollard vocal kicks in: "Japan/Japan/Japan/Friction in Japan..."



It's got a simple rhythm and the lyrics are pretty spare, with the emphasis being on several rising and falling guitar lines, some swelling keyboards and Pollard's pronunciation of the lyrics... each repetition of line finds him emphasizing a different word or sound. On the album, of course, something this bombastic would want to be followed by an acoustic snippet like "Sir Garlic Breath" - where Pollard, over a couple of strummed guitar lines (one acoustic, one electric) is intoning random lyrics about "five little girls wrapped in pearls" and the apparent hero of the song: "cloven, woven, Sir G". It's all a bit reminiscent of a song like "The Old Grunt", and of course a perfect fit on a GbV record with five singles.

That's eight tracks of the 17 on the album, and I assure you each one will be a favorite upon one of your passes through the album - as will any of the next nine. Hell, who even gives you eight good songs on an album anymore? You know, it's funny. If you're one of those people who doesn't believe in "the album" anymore - you can certainly get more than your money's worth buying the singles. In fact, you might never know what you're missing. But you will be missing some amazing stuff. Get the singles, but get the album. And the next one, and the one after that...

Guided by Voices at Rockathon

GBV Digital



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New Guided by Voices singles: "Noble Insect", "Waves of Gray" and "See You Soon"


Guided by Voices has released the fifth single from English Little League -- "Noble Insect" is a hypnotic Pollard vocal (repeating a mantra "Japan" and variations thereon) over a similarly hypnotic and sort of creamy Sprout instrumental. The result is, predictably, hypnotic. 

In keeping with the other singles in this series, Tobin's got billing just about equal to Pollard - on this one the Sprout number is a pretty piano song: "Waves of Gray".

Finally, there's a Pollard 1:30 nugget - raw, featuring piano and vocals that are lovingly "messed-with" rather than polished. The song's called "See You Soon" - a fitting title from our hero, who's finally going to unleash the entirety of English Little League on the world April 30. 



Can't hardly wait. I'm not sure which is the greater pleasure: getting five singles (plus B-sides) in advance of the record, or the anticipation itself...


Buy at GBV Digital or iTunes, you know where that is.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New Singles from Guided by Voices - "Xeno Pariah" b/w "Jimmy the Giant"


Out today, the latest from Guided by Voices is a new song, combined with a very very old song. "Xeno Pariah" is an advance track from the upcoming album English Little League, and "Jimmy the Giant" is a reworking of a song that apparently dates from 1974. The title cut is a fairly typical Pollard catchy lo-fi single - a low, growling vocal and a jangly guitar line. The B side is a gem, but it's not for everyone. But for who it's for (the faithful) it is a joy.

You can get it at GBV Digital - looks like the physical is sold out at the Factory of Raw Essentials... maybe you can have some luck on the aftermarket!

In other, related news, English Little League (due out April 30) is available for preorder, at GBV Digital and The Factory of Raw Essentials.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Guided by Voices Singles, take 2: "Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)"


The latest Guided by Voices advance single 7" is "Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)", b/w "She Wore Blue and Green" and "Full Framed Luberon". An interesting feature of this three-track single is that two of the three are Tobin Sprout songs - the title song is an example of why Sprout is one of the finest pop songwriters on the planet - it's got guitars galore and is plenty creamy. "She Wore Blue and Green" is a lo-fi acoustic Sprout number, and it's a keeper as well. And "Full Framed Luberon"? It's an almost-industrial Pollard lo-fi number, heavy on the punk and psych.

Unfortunately for those of you just discovering this series of singles, the limited edition vinyl at Rockathon. for all four in the series appears to be sold out. That'll teach you not to hang fire, won't it?

However, great news: the digital version will also be available on iTunes and GBVDigital. There will be a new single each week until English Little League is ready for release.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Guided by Voices singles: "Flunky Minnows" and "Jellypop Smiles"


Out this week (Feb. 19 in stores) from Guided by Voices, the first advance single from the upcoming English Little League. Side A, "Flunky Minnows", is a power-pop gem, a typically catchy Pollard minor miracle. Side B, "Jellypop Smiles," is a wistful acoustic number (acoustic guitar, recorder) in the vein of "Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory" or "Bright Paper Werewolves."

You can buy it - limited edition vinyl - at Rockathon. Digital version will also be available on iTunes and GBVDigital. It appears there will be a new single each week until English Little League is ready for release.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

New (Free) Garage Rock Discovery: Bill Times A Billion - Say It Nicer


Bill Times A Billion is a Buffalo, NY-based duo playing garage rock with endearing simplicity and female vocals that kind of remind me of His Name Is Alive. Their EP Say It Nicer is out now (released Jan. 7) and currently they are giving it away at Bandcamp, so it's not like you need me to spend a lot of time describing it - you can check it out for yourself at your leisure.

Perhaps the most endearing part is their taste in covers: Tommy James & The Shondells is a good one, as is "Bring It On Home" (the Sam Cooke one, not the Led Zeppelin), but better yet is "Motor Away". The name of our blog made them reach out to us, and good thing:





So, the lesson here, garage bands, is that Guided by Voices is a sure way to a bright future.

Bill Times A Billion Website



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

REVIEW: Guided by Voices - Down By The Racetrack EP (free track available now)


Guided by Voices has cranked out one for the faithful... and it's wonderful. Down By The Racetrack is a 6-song EP, a bit of a holdover from the team that brought us three of 2012's favorite records including my top disc of the year - The Bears For Lunch.

However, as those of us familiar with GbV know, "holdover" does not mean "less than ridiculously enjoyable." Because this thing is a joy - from the opener, "Amanda Grey", which is 43 seconds of Tobin Sprout's heavenly tenor over a string section, to the pounding piano and playful Pollard vocal of "Standing In A Puddle Of Flesh", they manage to fit all four P's in what looks to be a little less than 11:00 of playing time. Like previous GbV EP's Clown Prince Of The Menthol Trailer (7 songs, 10:24) and Fast Japanese Spin Cycle (8 songs, 10:22), it's short but full.

Highlights, to me, are the lo-fi, heavy rave-ups "Down By The Racetrack" (Sprout vocal) and "Pictures Of The Man" (Pollard vocal) but you know songs like "It Travels Faster Through Thin Hair" (with its "They Are Not Witches" guitar flourish intro, Pollard falsetto vocal, and acoustic/electric guitar interplay) will reveal their charms and become earworms like "My Impression Now" from Fast Japanese Spin Cycle or the original version of "Fair Touching" from Lexo And The Leapers. And who's to say we won't get any of these songs in a "full" version on a future GbV full-length? And even if we don't, any of them can become staples of the live set and deliver the kind of joy that GbV fans know and understand.

To that end, download and enjoy the delightful Pollard wordplay ballad "Copy Zero" for now, but be sure to get the whole thing next week.  Down By The Racetrack will be out Jan. 22 and is limited to 2,000 cd's and 1,500 vinyl copies. Currently you can pre-order at Rockathon Records.





Saturday, January 5, 2013

WYMA Top 50 of 2012 (John)


I think it should go without saying that 2012 was a great year for music fans - the four of us who write about music we like on When You Motor Away have each come up with a list of our favorite records, and there is not a lot of overlap. To me, that's evidence that there is more good music available than there's ever been. However you discover it - YouTube, XMU, podcasts, or even little old music blogs like this - you had to be thrilled with the quantity and quality. I know I was. Here are the 50 records that hit me hardest in 2012. By no means is this considered comprehensive - there is no way I heard everything, or even everything that I might actually enjoy. I suspect I will still be discovering good 2012 music in, say, 2015. But we wanted to try to give you a sense of what we liked, and while hard to cull, these lists are fun to assemble. So here you go - top 25 in order, next 25 alphabetical...

1. Guided by Voices - The Bears for Lunch. This was the best record of the year – it had plenty of competition from within Robert Pollard’s 2012 body of work, including Class Clown Spots A UFO and Let’s Go Eat The Factory as well as Robert Pollard solo releases Jack Sells The Cow and Mouseman Cloud, but The Bears For Lunch was the fullest, best-sounding and most fun of the five. Four Tobin Sprout songs on one GbV record? As always, GbV and Pollard are characterized by generosity – you know, more is more. WYMA review here.



2. Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears. As good as Yoakam’s been for over 25 years (and when he’s hitting his stride, there is not a better country singer, songwriter or showman), 3 Pears might be his best. He’s never been afraid to blur the lines between country, rock, pop and rockabilly and this record was no exception. He also combined forces with Beck, Kid Rock, Jason Falkner (he always has a great guitarist on hand) and created one of the best records of 2012 in any genre. If you like country, you’ll love it. If you don’t think you like country, it’s still probably worth a try. WYMA review here.

3. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - There Is A Bomb In Gilead. Out of Alabama comes a dynamo, a hard-rocking force of nature who manages to combine punk, country and R&B to great effect. The Dexateens were really good, but Bains has upped the ante here – he’s a great shouter who can switch gears and sing straight-up soul music, backed by a great southern rock band. WYMA review here.

4. Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky. Well worth the wait, I Bet On Sky is already among my favorite Dinosaur Jr. albums. Sure, J Mascis does the same thing over and over, but when that thing is THIS kind of great guitar with J’s plaintive vocals, who can complain? WYMA review here.

5. Neil Young And Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill. We didn’t review this record – why would anyone need a recommendation from US to pick up the latest from Neil Young and Crazy Horse? But just in case you do, please don’t hold Americana against them… Psychedelic Pill is a tour de force, a return to great, great form. I remember the resurgence evident in 90’s Crazy Horse output like Sleeps With Angels with its 14:30 “Change Your Mind” – and I realize I should never have doubted these guys. For good measure, they have included two songs with over 15:00 of Young and Sampedro on guitar… at their best, they are as good as guitar rock gets. On this record, they are at their best. Since I don’t have a review, here’s a video:



6. Brian Olive - Two Of Everything. Olive is a former member of the Greenhornes and Soledad Brothers, and co-conspirator with Dan Auerbach on Dr. John’s lauded 2012 release Locked Down. But more importantly, he’s a heck of a songwriter and arranger who made one of my favorite records of 2012 – soulful and psychedelic, the Sly Stone and John Lennon comparisons I read both make sense to me. Check out WYMA review here.

7. Tame Impala – Lonerism. Speaking of psychedelic rock, while I have you on a bit of a psychic tangent with Olive, let me launch you into space on the wings of Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala. Long songs, plenty of reverb, and great guitars make this a record you can really get lost in. WYMA review here.

8. Strange Hands - Dead Flowers. This was my favorite of a very good lot of garage rock records I heard in 2012. Rocksteady really tapped into the garage rock resurgence with a lot of his reviews this year, but I got a few – Nashville citizens like Pujol and Turbo Fruits, and also from overseas. This Italian import had it all, from the retro “Every Picture Tells A Story” intro of “First Poem“ to the head-bobbing, foot-tapping racer “Acid Vision“ and the Johnny Thunders-style hard punk rock of “Anxious Pictures“. There’s not a weak cut on the record – far and away my most pleasant out-of-nowhere surprise of 2012. WYMA review here.



9. Trainwreck Riders - Ghost Yards. Terrific punk-influenced country jams – another of my favorite discoveries of 2012… songs like “Gypsy Stealin’” kind of make a case for the claim that The Meat Puppets, Pixies, Nirvana, Drive-by Truckers and Whiskeytown arose from pretty similar impuses. Okay, I’m the only one making that claim… check this out, if for no other reason than the gorgeous guitars on “House Upon The Hill”. WYMA review here.

10. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance. I consider this record a minor masterpiece. I’m not sure Hood’s ambitions with this record were all that grandiose – some of the interviews I have seen seem to indicate he just felt he had to get some of these songs out. But sometimes the man, the material and the timing all come together perfectly. I think that’s what happened here. WYMA review here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Guided by Voices - The Bears For Lunch


The Bears For Lunch, which is Guided by Voices' third album of 2012, is also their best of the year... and perhaps their best in quite some time. From the beginning of full-on rocker "King Arthur The Red", this is the sound of a band that is hitting its stride - well past last year's "Can they still do it?", well into "Well, hell, maybe they can do it as well as they ever did!" Certainly, Pollard's solo records in 2012 have kept up the quality, but there is still nothing like a Guided by Voices record.

Listening to the breakneck rhythm section and guitar riffing on that opening track, one has the impression that Pollard has done what might have seemed impossible. He has reunited with Tobin Sprout and brought production values that GbV really only started to employ after this original lineup broke up. But even better than merely having the old gang play the old songs in a new way, they've cranked out 19 terrific new songs.

It's not for me to pick out highlights - the whole thing's a highlight - but "Hangover Child" is terrific, with a heavy riff and multi-tracked vocals in Pollard's trademark British accent intoned over what sound like at least six or seven changes in a little under 3 minutes. And the next cut, "Dome Rust", is full of punk-inspired guitar riffs... later on, "White Flag" is a heavy guitar rocker in the tradition of "Official Ironmen Rally Song" or "Not Behind The Fighter Jet". Here's "White Flag":



Here's another one of my favorites, "Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere":



The Tobin Sprout tracks, including "The Corners Are Glowing", "Skin To Skin Combat" and "Waving At Airplanes" are as pretty and smile-inducing as the best songs Sprout has ever contributed to GbV. Sprout's gentle vocals and some sweet string sounds lead toward about a minute-long outro of psychedelic rock guitar on "Corners", and the impossibly high multi-tracked Sprout vocals of "Skin To Skin" over growling electric guitar are terrific. The vocals on "Airplanes"... just beautiful stuff.

If you're a fan, don't waste any time. If you're not sure, you can check it out for yourself and see what all the fuss is about. The record is out tomorrow on Guided by Voices, Inc. - you can buy at GBV Digital or you can order a cd or vinyl at Rockathon Records.

Also, if you look on iTunes, you can find three of the songs with B-sides available to buy.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

REVIEW: Robert Pollard - Jack Sells The Cow


Robert Pollard's latest release, Jack Sells The Cow, is a demonstration of a property that his fans are very familiar with: that Pollard is capable of putting out a high-quality album almost monthly.

In what might be a bit of a theme, several of the songs swing between beat-heavy, sludgy verses and catchy, almost poppy guitar-laden choruses... "Heaven Is A Gated Community" hammers home the line "I wanna go with you" over and over, until it releases with a plaintive "Will you go with me? Will you let me know?" The second song, "Take In" features jangly guitar and a soaring multi-tracked Pollard vocal, but again, over a pretty heavy rhythm section.

"Who's Running My Ranch" is probably the best example, and perhaps the best song on the record: there's the solid drum/bass line propelling the song along until the release - again, jangly guitar and that glorious British accent intoning lines like "But if you want to/but the ass won't kick" add texture to the heavy rhythm base.

But wait until you hear some of the surfy guitar lines in "Up For All That" (echoes of the Drifters' "Up On The Roof", anyone else?) and the super-jangle of "Pontius Pilate Heart", the best song on the record. Wait, didn't I just call "Who's Running My Ranch" the best... oh hell, they're all favorites. Or, more to the point, they all will be, in time. You will tap your feet to "Big Groceries" - you won't have a choice.

Here's "The Rank Of A Nurse", which features a somewhat tremulous vocal and one of the more restrained guitar lines (for the first half!):



It's an interesting record - all the songs clock in between 2:00 and 3:30 and I'd say this is a little poppier, a little catchier - but at the same time, a little heavier - than Mouseman Cloud, Pollard's previous 2012 solo release... and they make a nice pair.

Get it at Rockathon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

REVIEW: Guided by Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO


By now, it is surely no surprise to learn that Robert Pollard and the recently-reunited Guided by Voices have another sprawling, 20+ song rock album ready for release. After all, it's been six months since the last one! Class Clown Spots A UFO, out Tuesday June 5, is another result of 2011's GbV Classic Lineup Reunion Tour and the recording sessions that grew out of that reunion. Nor is it a surprise that this is one of the best rock releases of 2012.

Lead track "He Rises! (Our Union Bellboy)" is a guitar-driven track in the very recognizable GbV style - chiming electric guitar is well-featured, backing a typically strong Pollard vocal, and the pop/punk are the two P's in evidence. But the next track, "Blue Babbleships Bay", has some real Circus Devils moves - which is my way of saying it's 1:18 of bracing 70's prog-rock, an element that's always been present in Pollard's music, whatever the lineup. After all, Pollard has always included all four P's (prog, pop, punk and psych), and this is not any different.

"Forever Until It Breaks" is the first Tobin Sprout vocal, and is a pretty song - acoustic guitar and keyboards predominate, as you'd expect. "Class Clown Spots a UFO", the title track, is just spectacular. It's as if Bob set out to write a song whose catchiness would never be topped...



Check out this delightful blog post from No Ugly Babies, regarding the evolution of "Class Clown" - it's no surprise that the longer Pollard works on a song, the better it gets.

"Hang Up And Try Again" starts out with a ripping lead guitar line, a la "Little Lines", but with some vocal twists and a very strong bass line that ends up driving the song, before it dissolves into laughter. But "Keep It In Motion" is a melodic pop gem that showcases Pollard's and Sprout's wonderful way with a vocal, on top of some dreamlike acoustic guitar and keyboard sounds... and then it abruptly gives way to the wonderful, sprawling psychedelic electric guitar epic "Tyson's High School."

It goes on like this. My head spins as I listen to songs that are sure to become favorites - the 46-second "Roll of The Dice", for example. Who the hell can write a 46-second song that will get stuck in someone's head? Or another Toby vocal, "Starfire" - which reminds you of the heights these guys can hit together as it sails skyward, impossibly becoming more beautiful and lighter as it goes along. And the previously-released "Jon the Croc", more heavy psychedelia:



And "Hang Up And Try Again", which leans heavy and prog, with a bass line that reminds you of why one of this band's most-beloved covers is a Who song:



Some of the songs, like "Fly Baby", "Be Impeccable", and "Lost In Space" are glorified demos, the latter leading abruptly into album closer "No Transmission", which is a straight-ahead rocker. The whole thing, despite the vastness of the musical cornucopia here, leaves me eagerly anticipating the next release in this series - The Bears For Lunch, due out in November.

Out Tuesday on Rockathon Records or via GBV Digital.