Guided By Voices – Space Gun

A match is struck before the rooster shriek of a deranged train whistle. Again. And again. Following this strange opening battle cry, with the steady, assured, single note guitar lines of the record’s title track, Guided By Voices once again proclaim “THIS IS ROCK”. No one’s going to challenge the assertion, the proof is here in every song.

At over four minutes, ‘Space Gun’ is quite long for the band, and Pollard does repeat the phrase “here it comes” an excessive amount of times during the third quarter of the song. But this is my only quibble with literally the record as a whole, and it hardly takes away from Space Gun’s triumphant, 70s-rock-done-GBV-style feel. And those three words in such context herald the rest of the album. Up next, the trashy stomp of “Colonel Paper” has a serious “Hot Freaks” vibe going on in the lyrics coupled with a very powerful chorus. This spirit of that Bee Thousand song revved up to rock is a large component in Space Gun’s molecular make-up. We’ll hear it again in the fists-pumping-in-the-air “Blink Blank”.

But it’s not all full-on. “King Flute” rolls more than rocks, 70s echoes cascade on, slightly tinged with psychedelia. “Ark Technician” also brings the acoustic guitars to the fore. Lovely melodies here, complete with an “oo-oo-oo-oo, ah-ah“.

“See My Field’s” main guitar part is an amp’d up version of the “Queen Of Cans & Jars” riff. This is to give you an idea of the melody, mind you. It’s a better world for us having both songs. “Liar’s Box” continues the record’s penchant for opening single-note guitar lines. Almost half the tunes begin this way with Pollard then singing over it, and it makes when the band kicks in that much better. Marvel once again over Pollard’s note choices, like when he resolves the phrase “sixty seconds to lead”. Oh yeah. Great chorus here and another lead guitar line joins in during its closing bars to confirm how special this is.

Coming dead in the middle, and containing the awesome line “I lost an umbrella, looking for you in a shitstorm”, “Blink Blank” is the essence of the record. It’s a distillation of what GBV is all about. It does not hurry, and rocks all the harder for it. It’s definitely a high point, but then again so is most of the album.

“Daily Get Ups” picks up the pace, moving us into major key territory and the feel of the great British rock that informs a lot of Pollard’s best work. Another killer chorus. There’s something special, something intangible, about the feel of “Hudson Rake”. On my initial listen of the album, I remember thinking ‘Pollard’s fused his more experimental side into catchier tunes’, but now I’m just thinking ‘these are great catchy tunes’. After his 100th album last year (August By Cake), a few things could have happened – Robert Pollard could easily coast on his laurels repeating formulas for the rest of his life, he could go full tilt into his more experimental side, or he could do what he does with Space Gun and raise the baseline of a Guided By Voices record. These are great songs.

“Sport Component National” is all fired-up chant, the band full-tilt behind, dipping into a lo-fi acoustic and voice section before the closing chorus takes off from the L.A. freeway into glorious rock n roll heavens. “I Love Kangaroos” is pleasing melodic whimsy, the straightforward mentions of “Australia” and “jumping around” jarring in the midst of Pollard’s usual oblique lyrical output. “That’s Good” is a more dreamy number, using acoustic guitars, but you can sense the rock kick behind every chord.

Pollard expands his vocal timbre on the frantic – and fucking awesome – “Flight Advantage”. Here he repeats the line “spiders will dance” over and over, but as on the opener, he wouldn’t take up the extra time unless he deemed it necessary. And, like the record, we don’t want this one to end anytime soon. Space Gun is so good that if they simply played the whole thing live start to finish it would not disappoint. But of course one would hope for a two-hour greatest hits encore.

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