Monday, April 29, 2013

Guided By Voices: "English Little League" (album review)

Robert Pollard was never one to hold back, but this may be ridiculous.  This week his reformed Guided By Voices release English Little League, their fourth full length studio album since getting back together 18 months or so ago.

Of all of the records they've dropped since reuniting, this latest is definitely the weakest.  While none of the songs are terrible, there is a marked lack of standout material as well.  Usually you can count on a handful of gems remaining after you sift through the chafe of one of their records, but not this time.

What we get is really Guided By Voices playing standard Guided By Voices songs.  At the first notes of the album's opener "Xeno Pariah", you get a sense that you've already heard the song.  "Flunky Minnows" is among the cuts that could be best described as vintage GBV.

On occasion the band kick it up a notch or two.  "Taciturn Caves" is a decent methodical rock number.  The closer "W Glass In Foot" is the ballsiest rocker of the set.

In only a handful of instances: the dissonant experimental "Reflections In a Metal Whistle" and the nod to '60s bubblegum pop "Island (She Talks In Rainbows)" both fit the bill, does the band step out of their rut.  The most dramatic though is "Crybaby 4-star Hotel" which is constantly shifting from chugging to mellow to slick and back again.

They do try to defy expectations with "Quiet Game", a tongue-in-cheek (if half-hearted) jab at their sound.  We also get some intriguing layered vocals on "Know Me As Heavy", but for the most part its the blah nothing happening of songs like "Trash Can Full of Nails" and "Sir Garlic Breath" that win the day.

After a trio of strong albums, English Little League should serve as a cold reminder to the true hit-and-miss nature of Guided By Voices and their underlying philosophy of 'throw-enough-at-the-wall-some-of-it-will-stick'.

Best tracks: "Crybaby 4-star Hotel", "Know Me As Heavy"

Track listing for English Little League:
  • Xeno Pariah
  • Know Me As Heavy
  • Island (She Talks In Rainbows)
  • Trash Can Full of Nails
  • Send To Celeste (And the Cosmic Athletes)
  • Quiet Game
  • Noble Insect
  • Sir Garlic Breath
  • Crybaby 4-star Hotel
  • Biographer Seahorse
  • Flunky Minnows
  • Birds
  • The Sudden Death of Epstein's Ways
  • Reflections In a Metal Whistle
  • Taciturn Caves
  • A Burning Glass
  • W Glass In Foot

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