PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Guided By Voices Deliver Their Most Sonorous and Authoritative Album of 2019

Photo: Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR

Sweating the Plague is Guided by Voices' third album of 2019. It also happens to be their loudest, most conceptually focused, and most enduring record of this year.

Sweating the Plague
Guided By Voices


25 October 2019

While April's Warp and Woof thrived through its open embrace of a punk rock philosophy, its grime-saturated collage of sporadic low-fi gemstones a satisfying continuation of Guided By Voices' recent run, October's Sweating the Plague delivers a compelling statement about both Robert Pollard's legacy as a singer-songwriter and his band's own live reputation that is as coherent as it is goosebump-inducing.

On Sweating the Plague, Guided By Voices relish their cult status as one the most impeccable live rock bands to hit the stage through an album that is designed to be played on stage in front of dopamine-stimulated crowds at blistering volume. This need for bombast is not lost on producer Travis Harrison, who previously worked with Pollard and guitarist Doug Gillard on their collaborative Lifeguards album Waving at the Astronauts. What stands out on this latest record is the band's enthusiastic commitment to embrace the joy of working with talent that gels as seamlessly in the studio as it does on stage at massive events like Chicago's Riot Fest.

"Downer" starts things off with the grating drive of the patchy yet pulverizing guitars of Bobby Bare Jr. and Doug Gillard, transitioning smoothly into the progressive power pop of "Street Party". It tastefully meshes a mesmerizing diversity of tones and riffs anchored by the band's rhythm section, piloted with precision by bassist Mark Shue and drummer Kevin March.

"Mother's Milk Elementary" then unfurls its soaring balladry, the record's spiritual parallel to "Amazing Grace" swathed in waves of King Crimson-esque psychedelic depth. "Heavy Like the World", the album's undisputed barnburner, has made its presence felt already during the band's recent touring cycle. Already solidified in Guided By Voices' live oeuvre for turning ears towards its pop brilliance, this bittersweet track touts a melodious chorus that is impossible to get out of your head. There is something deeply moving about the song that harkens back to Pollard's Isolation Drills days. "Find your elevation while you can," Pollard croons on the catchy rocker "Ego Central High". Guided By Voices follow their bandleader's command, playing to the heights of their strengths as a unit down to the last brick of this stalwart edifice.

"The Very Second" revels in its own throwback '90s sound, while "Tiger on Top" rounds out artsy indie furniture with hefty slices of full-steam arena rock. �Unfun Glitz� then slides its mid-tempo swagger into "Your Cricket Is Rather Unique", a Pollard-penned number with a sugary chorus that Kevin March sings on. March previously delivered the goods on "Overloaded", one of the top tracks from the band's criminally overlooked double album August by Cake. March has provided a welcome vocal option for the band that is somehow on par with, albeit less frequent than, Tobin Sprout's past contributions to Guided by Voices. Something about the Pollard-March vocal dynamic is reminiscent of Hüsker Dü's Mould-Hart combo, and that's something to be celebrated, indeed.

The fuzzy upsurge of "Immortals" then glides into the jangly shimmer of "My Wrestling Days Are Over", setting the stage for the '70s prog-inflected theatrics of "Sons of the Beard". Gillard is fully unleashed on this record's closer. It's a fitting finale with colorful riffage, capping off what feels like the most complete package of tracks from the band's current lineup. The club is open for diehard Guided By Voices fans and the uninitiated alike.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.