So, there is this thing I realized today when I opened the package from Rockathon Records, the self proclaimed “Factory Of Raw Essentials” and store-front for all things Guided By Voices (GBV) and its leader, Robert Pollard. The package contained their brand new album, Styles We Paid For, which I had pre-ordered late last year.
As I held this album, the third new GBV record I’d put my hands on in the past 12 months or so, it dawned on me that for some of us (ahem) older fans of a certain vintage who perhaps grew up in the 1960s this band is filling a void for a much needed regular new music fix. I use the word “fix” specifically (and in a good way, mind you) as it refers to a conditioned pattern of music acquisition (if you will) dating back some 50 years.
For a tail-end Baby Boomer like myself (born in 1961), I came of age (musically at least) at a time when there was an incredible flow of new music from artists on the radio seemingly all the time. So-called “singles” — 45 RPM vinyl records, usually containing two songs — were flowing like water from our faucets.
I compared my new singles with those of my friends in the neighborhood. Every several months the rain brought a shower of new albums which our brothers and sisters were getting. Indeed, especially in America, The Beatles and other British Invasion bands like The Rolling Stones seemed to release a new album every six months, with singles in between.
So as a little kid I was arguably conditioned to expect this sort of release schedule from my favorite artists. By the time the Beatles split up I was getting old enough to save my chore money and was buying singles when I could (The Archies’ “Bang Shang A Lang” was a fave). So I looked to new bands to fill the void but it wasn’t quite the same continuous experience. Still, I loved those hit records by Alice Cooper (“Elected” and “Schools Out”) and Procol Harum (“A Salty Dog”), Mott The Hoople (“All The Young Dudes”) and many many others.
Soon, the once-a-year flow of prog and singer songwriter flavored rock album releases sort of took over my psyche — Yes, Zappa, Jethro Tull, Nektar as well as solo Beatle things and Neil Young. So, I didn’t quite think about that frequent instant gratification stuff too much until 1978 when I got into Elvis Costello. Then all of a sudden — or so it seemed —- waves of singles were coming out from all over. From England on Stiff Records and then Radar Records and then even American labels were putting out lots of new records. The barrage of new artists and albums flowing out of the stores and airwaves was genuinely exciting. Nick Lowe. Rockpile. XTC. Joe Jackson. The Police. Split Enz. Talking Heads. Blondie. Devo. And I can’t forget one of my favorites from Canada: Martha & The Muffins!
Suddenly… record collecting and music in general seemed to get fun again… for a while anyhow!
Fast forward, and here I am in 2021 a fairly deep GBV fan collecting the singles, side projects, albums and anything from the Pollard universe. And I am thinking about that thing … that notion of constant new-music-gratification…I realized that GBV is filling that deep-rooted need for new music from a band I can believe in consistently with heart and soul. Like The Beatles, Zappa and Elvis Costello (and a bunch of others) before them, I have put my hand on the book of fandom and said: “I believe, unconditionally!” And so far, I’ve only had maybe one GBV purchase that I’m pretty sure I won’t play again. But that leaves hundreds of other GBV albums and singles to bask in. And there is the promise of more new GBV goodies every several months.
Can you feel the music-love in the air?
So, Styles We Paid For is the first new GBV album to arrive in 2021 although it is technically their last one for 2020. And it is most welcome. Like most GBV albums, by the second and third spins tracks like “Slaughterhouse,” “Endless Seafood” and “Mr. Child” are already sinking their rock earworm hooks into my heart. “Electronic Windows To Nowhere” is a neat Cars-y chugger. “In Calculus Stragem” is a big guitar epic with some especially beautiful playing from the ever-grand Doug Gillard.
“They Don’t Play The Drums Anymore” is really interesting as it actually breaks a bit of new ground for GBV! A nifty Afro-groove flavored drum loop cuts in and out of the song which seems to lament spending too much time staring at computer screens vs. playing real instruments.
There is so much good to explore on Styles We Paid For, a nice sounding — well pressed, quiet, dark black vinyl — and worthy follow up to last year’s terrific Mirrored Aztec (click here for my review of that) and Surrender Your Poppy Field as well as the eerily-premonition-ally-titled Sweating The Plague before it (click here)
But what about that new GBV side project?
For those of you not in the know, Guided By Voices’ leader Robert Pollard is brilliant on so many levels, including his ability to reimagine his work under different guises. Released near simultaneously with Styles We Paid For is the first music from a new side project band called Cub Scout Bowling Pins. This six-song blue vinyl 33 1/3 RPM 7-inch EP features all the members of the current line of of GBV. Whatever it is, it is pretty grand and a fine complement to the new album.
For me, Side Two is where the winner songs are: “School School,” “Funnel Cake Museum” and the very bubble-gummy title track, “Heaven Beats Iowa.” Seriously, this is a three song cycle I have played over and over which is the best compliment I can offer. There are hooks for days here.
Wrapping up with Styles We Paid For, the band had a fun contest and the fans responded creating their own twists on the new album’s cover art. You can find it on Twitter via the Hashtag: #StylesWePaidFor. Great fun!