Guided By Voices: Tremblers And Goggles By Rank [Album Review]

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Guided By Voices
Tremblers And Goggles By Rank
GBV Inc. [2022]

Depending on how you add them up, Tremblers And Goggles By Rank is Guided By Voices’ thirty-sixth album. For the current lineup, featuring Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitars, Kevin March on drums, Mark Shue on bass, and Travis Harrison handling production duties, this is their thirteenth album (including two double-albums). That’s an astonishing number on its own, made only more so when you realize that they’ve only been a recording unit since 2017’s August By Cake. With that many albums under their belt in such a short time span, it might be easy to assume that they’ve repeated themselves at least a few times or that every album sounds the same. But one of the band’s greatest strengths is how they consistently find fresh ways to animate Robert Pollard’s songs, giving each album its own unique sonic fingerprint. Sure, they all still sound like Guided By Voices, but there are enough twists and turns from album to album to keep things interesting.

Ironically, given Pollard’s reputation for cramming as many songs onto each album as possible, one of the most surprising things about the Tremblers is how few songs there are. Weighing in at a lean ten tracks, it comprises the fewest number of individual songs on a GBV full-length to date, though you could argue that the multi-part “Cartoon Fashion (Bongo Lake)” is actually four short songs stitched together. The point, though, is that these songs are surprisingly expansive, many covering a lot more ground than usual thanks to their 3-plus-minute average length. The lyrics are typical abstract Pollard, often feeling like the linguistic equivalent of one of his collages, with imagery and turns of phrase juxtaposed in interesting ways.

While each of the album’s ten tracks has its own unique sound, the album has two dominant modes: there are abrasive, heavy rockers like opener “Lizard On The Red Brick Wall,” with its buzzsaw guitars and primal drums, or the moody “Unproductive Funk,” that recall the darker atmosphere of 2019’s Sweating The Plague. Then there are the hook-filled power-pop anthems like “Alex Bell” (which isn’t as Big Star-influenced as it might seem from the title) and “Goggles By Rank,” both of which feature some of Pollard’s strongest vocals in recent memory. Some tracks don’t fit either mold, though, like “Focus On The Flock,” the epic closer “Who Wants To Go Hunting?,” and the aforementioned “Cartoon Fashion (Bongo Lake).” These tracks (but especially “Cartoon Fashion”) allow Pollard to indulge in his love of art rock and prog, and he gleefully plays around with his vocal delivery while shifting through multiple musical gears.

It may not be their best album, or even the best album by this particular lineup. But if Tremblers And Goggles By Rank tells us anything about the future of Guided By Voices, it’s that there’s plenty of creative gas left in the tank.

“Alex Bell” / “Focus On The Flock” / “Cartoon Fashion (Bongo Lake)”

The Move / Raspberries / Wire

Crystal Nuns Cathedral (2022) / It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! (2021) / Cub Scout Bowling Pins: Clang Clang Ho (2021) / Earth Man Blues (2021) / Mirrored Aztec (2020) / 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)

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Simon Workman
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