Motivational Jumpsuit, the bazillionth release emanating from the world of indie rock gurus Guided By Voices (GBV), is their first for 2014 and the world is again a happier place because of it.
A nice addition to the other four -- count 'em, 4! -- albums the band has released since reforming with its original line up just a few years back, this time the focus seems to be on rocking out with a bit of a message. Across 20 or so songs, there seems to be some anger over the state of the music industry, life in these hard times and so on, all delivered with that sense of irony and stream-of-consciousness wit which GBV has become renown.
Writing duties are again split up between co-founders Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout, with the latter's generally lighthearted faire providing much needed pause for thought after the former's sometimes gut wrenching introspections.
I told you this would be fun, right? Stick with me...
Before I get all big time record reviewer on you, Dear Reader, how 'bout if I tell you how the thing sounds? If you are already a GBV fan, then I can simply tell you "it sounds like a GBV record" and you'll know exactly what I am talking about. If you are among the unanointed to the glories that are Guided By Voices -- and I suspect a whole bunch of you audiophiles are among this latter group -- you do need to understand that these records are pretty much the epitome of DIY independently produced slap-dash musical splendor. Traditionally a mesh of lo-fi and higher-fi recordings -- from kitchen made demos to full blown studio creations -- this new album is actually a bit more consistent in its overall flavor while still retaining that pastiche feel. Guitar tones are the order of the day and this album is full of dense, even sometimes murky layers of guitars, in-the-red distorted vocals and signature short bursts of sound. Most every tune on the album is about two minutes in length.
Just right, I think. After all, its also only rock and roll... well... you fill in the blanks...
If you are looking for an audiophile record with the sonic definition of, say, a Mark Knopfler solo record or Sting, GBV probably ain't gonna be your cuppa tea for the most part.
Actually, I take that back. Go seek out their Ric Ocasek produced album from 1999 called Do The Collapse, which is about as big a production sound as the band gets (and that is pretty big since many songs on the album carry that production flourish of The Cars for which Ocasek was famous). That album, along with Universal Truths and Cycles, are my faves from that era of the band and they really do sound pretty great. They are also hard to quite hard to find on LP (but they are common on CD). Worth checking out, for sure.
Sonics-wise, Motivational Jumpsuit is all over the place, from lo fi kitchen takes to studio-made power plays to over-saturated rehearsal sessions that were probably just too good to leave off the album.
Or perhaps that is the sound they wanted for that track.
If you are seeking songs that rock madly and bear the influence of decades of now-classic indie rock and the 1960s British invasion, GBV is a band for you. In many ways, these records sound like they could have been made in 1968 in a storage locker shared by The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks.
Curiously, the MP3s that came as a free download with the album sounded remarkably brighter than the LP. This lead me to revisit the LP and realize that cramming all those songs onto two sides of plastic is still a lot of music even at their short length.
So, be sure to turn up the volume when playing Motivational Jumpsuit on LP. Actually, it sounds pretty kick ass turned up to 11!
My favorite tracks on Motivational Jumpsuit lean to the more rocking tunes like album opener "The Littlest League Possible." "Planet Score" might be a lament over the passing of traditional record stores with its lines "They're like the ghosts of Motown. You just don't see them anymore." You gotta love a song that rhymes "downtown" with "surround sound"! "I Am Columbus" could have been an outtake from the band's major label years (the Earthquake Glue album in particular). "Difficult Outburst And Breakthrough" sounds like one of The Who's Odds 'n Sods. Tobin Sprout's contributions seem to be a bit more tightly produced than usual this time around, with his signature chimey-jangly guitars hooking up neatly with drums. "Zero Elasticity" is as solid a rock riff as I've heard from these guys back in their heyday. With lines like "I've got nothing left to go on and that's a fact," clearly the band is reveling in tossing fate to the wind and just rocking out.
But .... wait... there's more.... I forgot to tell you that the band again issued five -- count 'em 5! -- singles in advance of this album's release, some with non LP B-sides (and download codes for the tunes). So combined with the tracks on the album you get 25 new GBV songs to take with you on the road or on your morning commute. The singles come with some really groovy artwork -- GBV frontman Robert Pollard has even done gallery showings of his collages which have graced most of the covers of the band's albums and singles. But, do you really need the B-sides? This time around, not so much.
But, heck, I'm a completist and I really simply enjoy the FUN of collecting these fun new records.
And, at the end of the day, I can honestly say that GBV is all about having fun, kids!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.