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Why Did I Almost Not Review A New Guided By Voices Album?

Mark Smotroff realizes that some ear candy requires more time to digest…

Guided By Voices (GVB) have a new album out called Earth Man Blues

And I almost didn’t review it.

Why?

Well, generally I only review recordings I genuinely like and unless there is a problem with the recording I fell compelled to alert you — Dear Readers — about. I won’t waste time and space with a negative review. 

By the time I got my hands on a copy of Earth Man Blues, I’d seen a number of fan comments about the brilliance of the album so my expectations were perhaps elevated. But when I put it on I wasn’t immediately knocked out. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I know that a number of GBV’s albums have been “growers” as they say — recordings which grow on you with repeated listens.

My music buddy Frank didn’t dig what he’d heard sampling the album. And then GBV announced that it was putting out a whole album under its alias “Cub Scout Bowling Pins” (whose six-song EP I reviewed and loved, click here to get to that review). So I thought I’d probably wait to review that and wrap Earth Man Blues into that.

But then… me being me… I decided to give Earth Man Blues a fourth spin and — lo and behold!  — I am liking it… finally! 

So what was my problem getting this one?  Well, aside from my lingering love for last year’s Mirrored Aztec, this one appears to be something of a rock opera or at least a concept album… so there are many mood shifts and quick change-ups along the way. It even comes with a libretto (for gawd sakes!) so you can try to follow the narrative (which I’m still working on, admittedly).

This album is less about immediate hooks and more about the feel as a whole.  Perhaps what is missing is an overture like The Who’s Tommy had to bring you into the experience as a listener. Perhaps not…  

In a way, it reminds me a bit of The Kinks’ Preservation Act II, a sprawling double LP set that put aside the strong immediacy and concise structure of the wonderful single disc precursor — Preservation Act I — for the sake of telling the story. It is good, but you the listener have to work at and with it.

That said, there are some cool songs here which have been growing on me with each spin, such as “Lights Out In Memphis (Egypt)” and “Free Agents”  — the latter could be a single, for sure. 

There are a lot of groovy new sounds popping up on this GBV album…. big rolling thunder tom toms, synthesizers and such… 

And while its mostly high quality studio recording on Earth Man Blues there are moments of LoFi sounds intercutting such as the fab psychedelic rock band tidbit sandwiching the poppy “Sunshine Girl Hello.”  

In general Earth Man Blues is a good sounding rock album. The vinyl pressing is crisp and clean, and it is well centered, so all those good things we record collectors appreciate are in check. Travis Harrison’s production is excellent, navigating the many twists and turns of this complex song cycle and making it all jump out of the speakers. 

So do I recommend you check out Earth Man Blues?  Why sure! Just don’t go into this expecting instant satisfaction. GBV makes you work a bit more on this one but the riches are no doubt there… It is worth the journey, getting to the payout of a beautiful haunting hook like “How Can A Plum Be Perfected?”  The time investment is worth every minute you’ll spend in becoming a fan of the album. 

I can’t wait to hear “Child’s Play” live with its kick**s guitar solos. That’s  gonna be epic! 

“Trust Them Now,” indeed. In GBV we trust!

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