Guided by Voices
How Do You Spell Heaven
Year of release: 2017
At this point, it's foolish and entirely reductive to chart the dismantling and reformation of Dayton, Ohio lo-fi rock legends Guided by Voices' career. After getting the classic lineup back together in recent years, singer/songwriter Robert Pollard broke things off, reformed the group with new musicians, and continued touring. After two releases in 2016, GBV unleashed the 32-song monster August by Cake earlier this year, featuring Doug Gillard, guitarist Bobby Bare Jr., bassist Mark Shue, and drummer Kevin March. This type of thinking is in keeping with Pollard's insane prolific streak (a similar reformation occurred during the 90s), but there was still something disappointing about August by Cake. It felt too sprawling. Too expansive. Too in love with it's "on the road" touring excess. Now, with How Do You Spell Heaven, Pollard and company get back to what they do best; creating pleasurably crunchy, confident, and jangly rock n'roll.
On songs like "Paper Cutz" and "Diver Dan", Pollard sounds positively alive, swaggering his way through the kind of earworm melodies that have become GBV staples, whereas "King 007" surprises by beginning as a folk jam before erupting into a krautrock-inspired groove. There are other nice variations on the band's patented mold here too. For example, "How to Murder a Man (In 3 Acts)" starts slowly like rumbling dirge, goes into a wailing chant-filled series of drum fills, and then segues into an acoustic-churning outro. There's even an instrumental break in the form of "Pearly Gates Smoke Machine", which chugs along like Southern-tinged booze rock where one can imagine Pollard's drunken slurs poking out from under the bombast.
Ultimately, there's a clarity of expression to How Do You Spell Heaven which places it, at the very least, near the upper echelon of 2000s-era GBV. As a vocalist, Pollard sounds clearer and more coherent than ever. Musically, his new batch of musicians, while lacking the scrappy charm of the classic lineup, are able to convey the effortless glisten and melancholy that allows their individual talents to shine while still sounding very much in unison with Pollard's traditional sound. The results are strangely uplifting for someone who has spent decades with 100-plus releases under his belt making music simply because he wants to. Instead of being disinterested and burnt out, Pollard seems inspired to dream. Something is revealed, slashing at your arm/something you can feel, sounding the alarm, he sings on the 80s-sounding "Nothing Gets You Real", and after all of this time, we are inclined to lean forward, nod agreeably, and rock out.