Space Gun is business as usual for Guided By Voices, while The Sword loses its riff-monster edge on Used Future, and Preoccupations’ New Material wades into new wave. These, plus Sunflower Bean and Cavern Of Anti-Matter in this week’s notable new releases.
And if you missed our review of Jack White’s Boarding House Reach, also released this week, you can remedy that here.
Guided By Voices, Space Gun
How many breakfasts have you had in your life? How many of those were pretty good? Space Gun, the latest full-length from a newly reinvigorated Guided By Voices, is business as usual for one of indie rock’s most reliable bands. Bandleader Robert Pollard’s knack for unexpected lyrical detours—take the playful mini-epic “Sport Component National,” inspired by a sports cable channel—and quirky pop earworms (good luck getting the melancholy chorus of “Liar’s Box” out of your head) is as evident as ever on an album dominated by straightforward mid-tempo rock ’n’ roll numbers. The guitars are big, of course, and fill in the space created by the clean, crisp production, seasoned with judiciously applied echo on Pollard’s punchy vocals. Similarly, while the music flirts with proggy diversions and cosmic sound effects, in the end the balance always reverts back to the handclaps and shout-along choruses GBV fans live for. It’s the the musical equivalent of eggs and toast at your favorite diner, perhaps not the group’s most distinctive release, but warm and nourishing nonetheless.
RIYL: Any of the dozens of other Guided By Voices albums that have been released over the past 30 years or so.
Start here: Lead single “Space Gun” opens the album with in appropriately rousing fashion as members of the band join one by one, piling simple guitar line upon simple guitar line to create the contained chaos at which GBV excels. [Katie Rife]
Sunflower Bean, Twentytwo In Blue
Unlike the psych-pop explorations of the band’s debut, SunflowerBean’s sophomore album, Twentytwo In Blue, is tighter in execution, broader in scope, and more pop-focused in nearly every way. Taken as a collection, it sounds like a jukebox full of lost ’70s hits. There’s the frequent Fleetwood Mac-style tracks such as “I Was A Fool”; the power-pop flourishes of “Crisis Fest”; the garage-rock stomper of “Puppet Strings.” But all of them are threaded through with transitional guitar phrases and layered vocal melodies that refer back to the Beatles and the Byrds, even as singers Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen shift their lyrical textures from grainy-gruff to sugar-sweet. Every style the group attempts manages to work, with nary a clunker among the lot. It may be derivative, but it’s never weak: SunflowerBean has channeled the most appealing elements of those past decades’ pop music and retained a sprightly, affectionate touch. The album’s lyrics are full of introspection about the nature of getting older despite still being young, which helps Twentytwo acquire that timeless sheen borne by good pop acts everywhere—and from any year.
RIYL: Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations, if they had existed in the mid-’70s. Power pop. Fleetwood Mac.
Start here: “I Was A Fool” captures the group at its smoothest, while still providing a cross-section of its music arsenal, from the trading-off vocal performances to the layered harmonies and subtle instrumentation. [Alex McLevy]
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Preoccupations, New Material
Preoccupations have always been clear about their intentions. Song titles are pithy, one-word descriptors of the subject matter they tackle, and the title of their third full-length, New Material, is about as plain as one can get. But where the band long took up the post-punk sound that’s once again trendy, on New Material, they wade into the waters of new wave. Songs like “Espionage” and “Disarray” have jagged pop sensibilities that draw a line back to bands like Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, but Preoccupations are shy about going full-on pop. Songs like “Antidote” start like danceable rave-ups before shifting into harsher, experimental territory. Similarly, New Material is sure to divide fans down the middle, leaving them questioning Preoccupations’ intent as, for perhaps the first time, the band is more keen on playing things close to the chest.
RIYL: Wire’s divisive ’80s records. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Depeche Mode.
Start here: “Disarray” is pure sugar, and it shows how good the band is when it isn’t bashful about writing a pop song. [David Anthony]
Cavern Of Anti-Matter, Hormone Lemonade
The third album from Cavern Of Anti-Matter—the midcentury chic krautrock throwback led by Stereolab’s Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth, plus synth-programming whiz Holger Zapf—begins with its best track, the sprawling, 16-and-a-half-minute electronic odyssey “Malfunction.” Opening with some triumphant, educational filmstrip synth-brass notes, it slowly brings in arpeggiated counter-melodies over a simple motorik drum machine, which are then repeated across various other vintage analog synths in tones alternately fizzy and warm, soaring and laser-strobed. You get the idea: This is Science Of Tomorrow stuff as envisioned by the Germans of yesterday, and Hormone Lemonade retains Gane’s career-long fascination with krautrock pioneers like Neu! and Kraftwerk in the mechanical pulse beating beneath these improvisatory jams. As on previous albums, whenever Gane brings in his laidback-funk guitar (“Phase Modulation Shuffle,” “Automatic Morning”), it instantly evokes Stereolab’s space-age bachelor-pad music, and suffers in the absence of Laetitia Sadier’s coos. Still, there’s enough variety here—the sparkling Terry Riley-esque cascades of “Solarised Sound” and “Phantom Melodies”; the analog Aphex Twin-isms of “Outerzone Jazs” and “Feed Me Magnetic Rain”—to make this a worthwhile spin through such thoroughly explored territory.
RIYL: Stereolab. Kraftwerk. Neu! PBS’ Nova. Talking about vintage synths. Tape Op magazine. Turtlenecks.
Start here: “Malfunction” is such a perfect journey through what Cavern Of Anti-Matter is capable of, it almost makes the rest of the album redundant. [Sean O’Neal]
The Sword, Used Future
“Stuck in the ’70s” doesn’t quite do justice to the almost pathologically retro crunch of The Sword. Increasingly, these Texas stoner traditionalists seem downright stranded in the classic-rock yesterday, boxed in by the limitations of their blatant throwback sound. Is there a hint of self-awareness in calling their latest collection of time-warp anthems Used Future—an acknowledgement that every step forward is still a step backwards through a thoroughly written rock history? Evolution, on this latest album, amounts to a little sci-fi synth here, a little funk swagger there, and more of a mid-tempo mellow throughout. But most of the songs (including one too many instrumental interludes) are tuneful but not especially catchy. And without the stone-age shredding that was once this band’s life purpose, Used Future is just nostalgic affectation, with the added anti-bonus of pushing frontman John D. Cronise’s Ozzy-lite enunciations and corny lyrics—like those of the vixen-fearing cautionary tale “Deadly Nightshade”—into the unflattering limelight.
RIYL: Your dad’s record collection.
Start here: Nothing on Used Future comes close to kicking like the trad-metal highlights of The Sword’s best record, 2012’s Apocryphon. But “Sea Of Green,” on the other end of the spectrum, has a certain golden-baked appeal, emphasis on the baked. [A.A. Dowd]
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