Friday, March 22, 2013

The Latest Guided By Voices Singles - Ranked

A Quick Backstory

It took me until 2009 to finally "get" Guided By Voices. After reading about the band's breakthrough album - Bee Thousand in several music magazines and seeing it listed as one of the greatest indie rock albums ever, I bought the CD in 2002. After several listens, there were a few songs that stood out to me (most memorably "Echos Myron"), but the rest sounded like fluff. I stored the CD away and wouldn't return to it again until several years later. Flash forward to 2005-  I decided to give it another chance, and this time around a few more tracks starting standing out but it was still very strange to me. My brain and ears just weren't ready yet. I almost sold it back to a used CD store for a measly buck or two, but then decided to return to it another day, just in case. A couple more years passed and I woke up one morning with a strange song in my head. It was one of the greatest songs I'd ever heard and quickly dug through all the music I'd listened to in the past month or so, but nothing was coming to mind. This beautiful chorus kept repeating through my hungover and hazy brain:

She runs through the night as if nobody cares
She screams and she cries and ignores all the stares
She wants me to go but I'm never going there
The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory

Did aliens from another planet implant this melody in my mind so I could record it with my own band? Was I going insane? It didn't make any sense! Weeks later I randomly put Bee Thousand back on my stereo for the first time in a couple years, and there it was..... Eureka! Somehow this song which I hadn't paid much attention to before, jumped back into my life. From that point on, Bee Thousand began making complete sense to me. I scoured through every Robert Pollard and GBV release I could find and they have been one of my favorite bands ever since.

The Rankings

Since reuniting the band's "classic" lineup in 2010, they put out not one but three really great albums in 2012 - Let's Go Eat the FactoryClass Clown Spots a UFO (my favorite of the year), and Bears for Lunch. This year, they are planning to release two new albums beginning with English Little League on April 30th. To lead up to its release, they are putting out a new single every 2 weeks until it comes out. These singles which are available on 7" as well as for download have convinced me that English Little League just might top about everything they released last year! Here are my rankings of the new singles with some brief notes.

Flunky Minnows (Pollard) b/w Jellypop Smiles (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 2/19)
5 out of 5

"Flunky Minnows" is a GBV classic and by far the best song found across these singles! This power pop gem immediately needs repeated listens. Despite a great title, "Jellypop Smiles" is a lo-fi dud featuring a reverb drenched recorder, but does offer a nice gloomy contrast to the peppy flip-side.

Xeno Pariah (Pollard) b/w Little Jimmy the Giant (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/2)
5 out of 5

"Xeno Pariah" is an instantly catchy power pop nugget and the opener to English Little League. The song sounds like a brighter and poppier cousin of "She Lives in Airports" from last years Bears for Lunch album. While "Little Jimmy the Giant" is a rockin' little number that was recorded in 1983. The song was originally released as a solo acoustic demo on the Suitcase box set, but here features electric guitars and a full band. 

Islands (She Talks in Rainbows) (Sprout) b/w She Wore Blue and Green (Sprout)/Full Framed Luberon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 3/5)
4 and 1/2 out of 5

If you love Tobin Sprout as much as I do, this is the single for you!  "Islands", which marks the first A-side written solely by Sprout is a harmony-laden, dreamy track that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. While "She Wore Blue and Green" is a sing-your-kids to sleep folk song. Pollard's - "Full Framed Luberon" is one of his numerous deranged experimental messes filled with grating guitars, and        
exhausting reverb heavy shouting.

Trash Can Full of Nails (Pollard) b/w Build a Bigger Iceberg (Sprout)
(Available for Download on 3/19)
4 out of 5

Although the A-side is my least favorite of these five singles, it could be one that makes absolute sense when heard in contrast with the rest of the new album. This tune leans heavy the prog-rock side with its' irregular battle march beat. The Tobin Sprout penned "Build a Bigger Iceberg" is an excellent psych-pop tune that features a breezy sing-along chorus.

Noble Insect (Pollard/Sprout) b/w Waves of Gray (Sprout)/See You Soon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/16)
4 out of 5

"Noble Insect" captures a return of the side project - Airport 5, featuring Tobin Sprout providing all of the instrumental parts while Pollard sings the main melody. The second side showcase Sprout and Pollard trading off a pair of songs on the piano; with "Waves of Gray" being a short and jumpy number, while "See You Soon" mixes Pollard's raw pop brilliance with experimental weirdness.

Download the songs at

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