Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots a UFO

Guided By Voices are two-thirds of the way through their 2012 LP releases with Class Clown Spots a UFO, which is their best full-length in quite some time.

Guided By Voices

Class Clown Spots a UFO

Label: Guided By Voices
US Release Date: 2012-06-12
UK Release Date: 2012-06-11

Ah, Guided By Voices, where to begin? Their 1983 birth in Dayton, Ohio? Its legendary three-classic LP run of Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars? Robert Pollard's prolific output? The "classic lineup" reunion for Matador's 21st birthday party in Vegas? Or on this very LP, Class Clown Spots a UFO, their 18th proper studio effort? Really all of those things can be combined and are worth a mention when talking about, taking in, or explaining Class Clown Spots a UFO. The classic lineup's been reunited and going strong, this is its strongest release since that classic three-LP run, Pollard's finally back at the top of his game, and the band's held onto its Midwest roots and still manage to sound fresh and vital.

Make no mistake, Class Clown Spots a UFO is a classic Guided By Voices record, with brief songs that almost seem fragmented until you realize how complete they actually are, never lacking passion or honesty. Pollard may not be a pop perfectionist, but he's always pretty damn close to one, which is an incredibly impressive feat considering the amount of material he releases with various different projects. The closest thing Guided By Voices have had to a "hit" was "Game of Pricks" back in 1995. Their songs have never catered to any particular set of rules; they've always just stood out as unbelievably good left-field pop songs that bristle with a passion more befitting of a political punk band. It's part of what makes them so interesting: they're not rallying for anything but themselves and what they believe in, all of which can be found within the lyrics to Class Clown Spots a UFO from science fiction to broken relationships.

Again, in typical Guided By Voices fashion, the tracklist may seem intimidating at first glance, being 21 songs long. But the record still manages to run under 40 minutes, making it a little shorter than most full-lengths being put out today. Leading off with "He Rises! Our Union Bellboy", it quickly becomes very clear that their aim is higher here than it was with their first full-length effort from this year, the reintroductory Let's Go Eat the Factory. From the surprisingly expansive and altogether brilliant opening track, Class Clown Spots a UFO never hesitates to look back. It goes full throttle as if to make clear that their decision to come back wasn't a fluke. They couldn't have had put out a more compelling argument.

Granted, there are a few moments in a select few songs that don't quite hit their mark, but it's those miscues that make Guided By Voices so interesting and raw. This is honest music. It also helps that any time they land on any of those false notes, they're immediately remedied by one element or another. There's a lot more subtlety on Class Clown Spots a UFO than one might expect, whether it be a light orchestral arrangement buried in the production, or a simple three-note guitar drone. Another thing helping matters is that when Pollard hits his stride, he's a lyricist of surprising warmth and pathos. All of that is evidenced very early on, even within the two-song punch of the tender "Forever Until It Breaks" and the rollicking title track.

"Class Clown Spots a UFO" is an interesting staple in the band's legendary discography, because when it first appeared, it was a thing of absolute devastation, a song of heartbreak. Here, it's reworked into a warm celebration. That transition from bleak to utterly winsome seems to serve as a good metaphor for the recent change of fate for the band. It also serves as a persistent reminder of Guided By Voices' enviable versatility. After that outburst of happiness and warmth comes the first of five songs on Class Clown Spots a UFO that come in under the "one-minute-or-under" mark, "Chain to the Moon", which is another song that emulates loneliness to an unnerving degree and is one of the record's best songs. Not to be outdone, two of the other four short songs, "Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head" and "Lost in Spaces", can boast the same claim. The remaining two, the Pavement-esque "Fighter Pilot" and "Worm with 7 Broken Hearts", recallin early-era Black Lips, come fairly close to being able to say the same as well.

Really, the heart of Class Clown Spots a UFO lies in the songs that are around the one-and-a-half- to two-and-a-half -minute mark. This is a classic Guided By Voices record, after all. Of those, there aren't any that don't stand out (with the possible exception of "Tyson's High School"), making Class Clown Spots A UFO one of the strongest LPs that Guided By Voices have ever released. Many of them play up a psychedelic influence on a much more noticeable level than they had previously. The 60s psych-pop flourishes only help define some of the songs and add an extra dimension to the overall mood and tone to Class Clown Spots a UFO.

However, the most surprising aspect of this record is how devastating some of the slower songs end up being. Guided By Voices have never been as adept at breaking hearts as igniting them, at least never this consistently. Every time they touch the breaks on their tempo, they unleash a small but almost violently despaired track. When their universe collapses, so does this listener. This is especially noticeable on "Be Impeccable" and the short "Lost in Spaces". Fortunately, the band doesn't leave the record hanging on that kind of note. It wouldn't have fit the record as well as what they do decide to end with, the fierce "No Transmission": "No Transmission" expertly brings everything to a crashing close, re-igniting an energetic fire that'll leave the listener on an adrenaline high and have him anxiously awaiting their follow-up record, Bears for Lunch, to be released later this year. It's not a rumor anymore, folks. Guided By Voices are back. In a big way.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.