Go big or go home feels like the unwritten motto on the newest Guided By Voices album Mirrored Aztec. On their second record release of 2020, GBV looks to hit every one of these eighteen tracks out of the rock n’ roll park! For fans, that means big riffs, big hooks and plenty of memorable moments.
From opening song, “I Think I Had It. I Think I Have It Again,” Robert Pollard and his talented band mates of Bobby Bare Jr., Doug Gillard, Mark Shue and Kevin March bring this stadium feeling right to you in your living room as you raise a fist to the call outs of “I think I had it!” The catchy opener is quickly followed by “Bunco Men,” which is honestly the most “single” like song on the album. It also will be familiar to legions of Pollard’s faithful as this track was resurrected from the cutting room floor of 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars and appeared on the first Suitcase collection in 2000. The present day version is bigger and better with only several lyric changes and it once again highlights the timeless power of Pollard’s writing.
Elsewhere, the fun rock moments continue to show up on Mirrored Aztec like the final guitar strum as the lights go out on “Show Of Hands” or when the School of Rock Montclair Choir close out “Math Rock” with an enjoyable group sing along. The tribute to Jane Fonda’s environmental work on “Thank You Jane,” near the end of the album, is another special moment. Fonda being the true focus of Pollard’s lyrics stands out and when you combine it with a memorable chorus and excellent Gillard guitar work – the track sticks. There are plenty other pieces on Mirrored Aztec which are worthy of noting. The post-punk and almost metal “Biker’s Nest,” the dynamic style shifts during “Please Don’t Be Honest,” the swirling effect on Pollard’s vocals and pounding drums by March on “Citizen’s Blitz” and the sharp arrangement and writing on “The Best Foot Forwards” all make for a higher replay value.
Right down to the excellent cover illustrated by Courtney Latta, I feel Mirrored Aztec stands slightly taller compared to GBV’s recent material covering the last couple years minus Sweating The Plague (2019). (I thought the cold prog vibe on that album was so different and addicting, it still is one of my personal favorites.) I will say that it did take multiple spins of Mirrored Aztec to arrive at that above conclusion because there are some tracks that do restrain it a bit with their sequencing but overall with every listen, the hooks hold tighter and ultimately win you over. It is great to see Guided By Voices still releasing material that challenges the ear, is not afraid to turn the amps up and most importantly in a time when no one can see you perform – bring that rock experience right into your headphones!
Key Tracks: “Bunco Men” / “To Keep An Area” / “Thank You Jane”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Who / Spoon / Dinosaur Jr.
Guided By Voices Review History: Surrender Your Poppy Field (2020) / Sweating The Plague (2019) / Warp And Woof (2019) / Zeppelin Over China (2019) / Space Gun (2018) / Ogre’s Trumpet (2018) / How Do You Spell Heaven (2017) / August By Cake (2017) / Please Be Honest (2016) / Suitcase 4 (2015) / Cool Planet (2014) / Motivational Jumpsuit (2014) / English Little League (2013) / Down By The Racetrack EP (2013) / The Bears For Lunch (2012) / Class Clown Spots A UFO (2012) / Let’s Go Eat The Factory (2012)
– Reviewed by Thomas Wilde