True North the latest album from living legend amongst us Michael Chapman feels like a collection of songs that were written in a series of motel rooms, and not the kind of places you would like to stay in unless you absolutely had to. They are the kind of lodgings that you imagine have the shades perpetually drawn, are strewn with empty bottles of cheap booze, and have ashtrays that are overflowing with cigarette butts.
It’s a record that sounds populated by ghosts and regret with the 78 year old Chapman ruminating on all of fate’s cruel twists, and roads not taken. A dark and vital collection of songs that boast a masterfully spare production courtesy of Steve Gunn. Most of the time, it’s just Chapman’s time worn voice accompanied by his beautifully down-tuned acoustic guitar ringing clear as a bell against oblivion. It’s stripped bare with just the right amount of accompaniment; some of the best of it coming from the pedal steel of BJ Cole whose playing adds a haunting element to the proceedings, cellist Sarah Smout’s ethereal strings, and Bridget St John’s occasional vocal turns which shine especially on “Full Bottle, Empty Heart.”
The lyrics on True North are direct, and they cut deep. Chapman sounds like a man who doesn’t have the time for the bullshit anymore, and seems painfully aware of the clock running out. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
Buy the album from Paradise of Bachelors.
It’s kind of unimaginable to think that Robert Pollard and his band Guided by Voices are still kicking around; never mind, releasing such vital music in 2019. Some thirty years on, and the former elementary school teacher turned full-time indie rocker is still cranking out a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tunes and high kicks like some kind of Miller Lite fueled energizer bunny. Add to that the fact that we’re kind of in a new golden age when it’s comes to the group; boasting a current roster that some are referring to as “the new classic lineup,” which consists of Doug Gillard (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Mark Shue (bass), and Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar).
That brings us to their first offering of the new year, Zeppelin Over China. It’s the new group’s second (!) double album since the latest incarnation of the band gelled together sometime around 2017, and it follows last year’s almost unimpeachable effort, Space Gun. An album which is already considered by some amongst the greats in the GBV LP Hall of Fame, slotted alongside efforts such as Isolation Drills and Bee Thousand.
Zeppelin Over China sports a similar mostly high fidelity sheen as their last few previous efforts thanks to the work of engineer, Travis Harrison who along with the band excel at the task of elevating Pollard’s compositions to new heights; building the album from Pollard’s primitive boombox sketches to fully realized guitar rock. It’s a massive 32 song work that sprawls its tendrils out of over four sides of wax, and unlike the groups’ previous double album effort August By Cake which featured songwriting contributions from every group member; Pollard’s hyper-prolific kaleidoscopic pen is doing all the heavy lifting this time around. If there’s an album in the GBV oeuvre that’s similar to this one, it’s probably 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars in that it’s a record that rewards, and reveals itself with repeated listening. Sporting a collection of songs that run the gamut from the anthemic indie pop of “The Rally Boys,” to the proggy acoustic weirdness of “Bellicose Starling,” and the wirey post-punk moves of “Where Have You Been All My Life.” There’s plenty to dig into on here, and it’ll probably take you a bit longer to explore everything here than you did on their last go round. Which is totally fine, since it doesn’t seem like Bob Pollard and his crew are going anywhere anytime soon.
Order Space Gun via Rockathon Records.
The 13th Track has been kicking around using a Tumblr site as our main hub for the last couple years. But it’s 2019, and it feels like we’ve taken that platform as far as we can go with it. So, we’re going to be migrating here for our reviews and features. We’ll probably still keep publishing stuff over there too for the time being, but we’re gonna try and spread our wings out over here. Don’t mind us while we move the furniture around and get situated.