Robert Pollard has unplugged the Guided by Voices name twice now, only to reboot it with enough personnel changes to rival the histories of Yes or the Fall. So if you are only casually familiar with the indie juggernaut that burst out of Dayton, Ohio in the mid-’80s, you might be wondering “aside from Pollard, who are Guided by Voices these days?” Well, Pollard has been able to hang onto the same lineup for about a year now. The Guided by Voices behind Space Gun is the same one that recorded the 2017 albums August by Cake and How Do You Spell Heaven, with guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr., drummer Kevin March, and bassist Mark Shue. And considering just how easy it is for Robert Pollard to sneeze out a dozen songs on any given day, fans of the band may be surprised to learn that Space Gun will be the band’s only album this year. That’s right, get your hands on a copy and play it often so that it may tide you over until 2019.
Between Guided by Voices, various side projects, and his solo career, singer/songwriter Robert Pollard has written more than 2,000 songs. Yes, everyone knows that the man has been prolific for quite a while. What surprises me is hearing a new song from him that is so naturally simple and great that you can’t help but wonder how he didn’t stumble upon it sooner. Space Gun is peppered with the moments where the melodies glide easily allowing the band to rock it out like they’re in the heyday of college radio. Songs that can easily be reserved for a future best-of (should anyone dare to follow up Human Amusement at Hourly Rates) are “Liar’s Box”, “I Love Kangaroos”, and “Flight Advantage”. The title track is another stunner with guitar notes acting like a drill behind Pollard’s scaling vocal melody. It’s on tunes such as these where Pollard’s reputation is fully justified. The Replacements may have burned out, and R.E.M. may have faded away, but the torch of loud and tuneful indie burns brightly during Space Gun‘s best moments.
But then you get stuff like “Grey Spat Matters” where the song is over before it has a chance to do anything. “Daily Get Ups” is symptomatic of mid-album blahs. Fortunately, it’s surrounded by much more sturdy moments like the Wire-esque “Hudson Rake” and a creeping number named “Blink Blank” that starts off like this: “Light house black / Coffee can blue / I lost an arm, brother / Looking for you / In a shit storm.” Then you get the refreshingly spunky track “Sport Component National”, which plays out like one of those old Boo Radleys songs that sounded like a miniature suite unto itself, with changes in tempo, dynamic, and even recording quality.
Space Gun wraps up with “Evolution Circus”, showing a sludgier, less poppy side of Guided by Voices than the album’s brighter moments. Pollard just doesn’t want to take it easy on his fans, does he? Instead of sifting through his material to give you only the most immediately likable stuff, he gives you everything in bulk. Then it’s up to you to go digging. I find Space Gun to be about two-thirds great. Those great moments are what keeps people coming back for more, to continue digging and to find that perfect Robert Pollard song. Does it already exist? For all I know, it could be right here on Space Gun.