Features and reviews focusing on the known and unknown legends of Rock 'n' Roll; the private press heroes, doomed power poppers, psychedelic guitar warlords, avant garde outsiders, and lo-fidelity all stars.
For fans of Midwestern lo-fi indie rock there’s something instantly familiar about The Smug Brothers latest effort Attic Harvest. Maybe it’s the sonics created by the Tascam MKIII 4-track cassette recorder that captured the songs presented here, or maybe it’s the fact that drummer Don Thrasher was in on the ground floor of the mid-90’s lo-fi boom playing drums on such early Guided By Voices classics as Same Place the Fly Got Smashed and Propeller, as well “I Am A Scientist” and “Gold Star For Robot Boy” from Bee Thousand. At any rate, this record is sure to light up the pleasure centers of the brain for those who like myself who grew up around the time of, and loved those early GBV records as much as I did along with albums of their ilk by acts such as Pavement, and Sebadoh.
Label press indicates that these guys have been at the wheel for a long time, as this release appears to be lucky number 13 (and the group’s first foray into vinyl) with the brothers recording this one in a power trio configuration consisting of core members Kyle Melton (guitar/bass/vocals) and the aforementioned Thrasher on drums along with new recruit Scott Tribble to flesh out the sound adding guitars and keyboards to the proceedings. While there’s plenty of jangling fuzzy guitars, faux English accents, and hooks to recall days of indie past like the excellent “Rare & Double Clutch.” The album truly reveals itself when it tries to push beyond those parameters like on the sneaky lo-fi pop of “Reminding Penumbra,” or the acoustic psychedelics that gleam on “Learn From The East.” For those who wish the dream of the 1990’s never ended, perhaps it’s time to check in with the Smug Brothers you just might end up walking away with a record under your arm, and earworms for days. Party like it’s 1994.
It’s got to be difficult to be an old school indie rock band in 2019, even one as good as Joseph Airport. Considering the sea of indifference that most bands of their guitar slinging ilk are forced to sail on in this day and age. I for one am glad they soldier on, especially when the fruits of their collective labor are albums as good as Diorama Pt. 2.
It’s easy to compare the Detroit based Joseph Airport with their good old fashioned angular mid-fi crunch to Dayton, Ohio’s lo-fidelity all-stars Guided By Voices, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I think that’s a bit like comparing Badfinger to the Beatles. There happens to be a lot connections between the two groups that I think are worth noting. These guys bear the special distinction of being one of only a handful of acts to have a record released on Bob Pollard’s Rockathon Records label that wasn’t directly associated with him. It’s also important to note that guitarist Matthew Cutter is the man behind last year’s excellent Pollard bio Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices. The group’s latest also features tracks recorded with Tobin Sprout; the man who I consider to be the Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney when it comes to GBV’s classic lineup. So, the bottom line is these guys pilot an aircraft of a similar design to their mentors. The real question is how well do they fly?
I’m happy to report they manage to hit very few pockets of turbulence on the their latest, and manage to stick the landing. It’s an album chock full of soaring hooks, alternated with just enough mysterious psychedelic & proggy weirdness to keep the listener feeling pleasantly off-kilter. So, if you’re feeling a hankering for those long gone days of the late 90’s with a fresh approach, it might be time to book a flight with Joseph Airport.
Sometimes I think that it must be exhausting being Robert Pollard. Hell, sometimes it feels exhausting just being a casual fan. After dropping a double album Zeppelin Over China only a few months back, the fading captain sails back into port with another offering under his arm from his most reliable crew Guided By Voices. The aforementioned album in question is Warp and Woof, and while it’s credited to the same rock solid lineup that has graced the past few exemplary efforts, it feels like a different animal altogether.
The album’s genesis started with an itch by Pollard to record some quickie EP’s following the completion of their last album, however when a boombox writing session produced six fully formed songs in under half an hour, it seemed another album was brewing faster than previously expected. I imagine this would probably be a surprise to absolutely no one in the Pollard-verse given this guys proclivity for cranking out tunes. Although this time there seems to be an element of Pollard having his (August by) cake and eating it too, as the material that comprises Warp and Woof was first released a series of 4 7″ EPs (which are the amazingly titled 100 Dougs, Wine Cork Stonehenge, Umlaut Over The Ozone, and 1901 Acid Rock) prior to the albums release proper. Although GBV’s label Rockathon issued the following disclaimer about those cheapskates thinking about getting just the EP’s and not the album proper, “Just because you have the 4 EP’s doesn’t mean you have the album! Our Uncle Bob is the king of sequencing.” As far as that whole thing goes, I think I’m just gonna leave it to the GBV podcast dude, to figure all that out as far as what’s what. I’m sure that episode should be dropping any day now (if it hasn’t already).
What I do know is that Warp and Woof has a looser more fragmented vibe than anything else that has been credited to GBV’s so-called “new classic lineup” thus far. For those familiar with the GBV oeuvre, think Alien Lanes or somewhat more recent reference point Let’s Go Eat The Factory. That’s probably the more spontaneous circumstances of the writing and recording with guitar tracks being cut at sound checks or in a van hurtling at 60-plus m.p.h with Pollards’ vocal tracks being laid down in hotel rooms or small studios. Unlike the past few albums which featured compositions that were meticulously crafted by producer Travis Harrison, and the group into miniature alternative universe arena rock epics using Pollard’s boombox sketches as the blueprint. The end result is collection of tracks that whips by faster than the mile marker signs on your way to the next gig with plenty of left turns, and unexpected detours. Quicker, dirtier, and more psychedelic; should probably be the disclaimer on the hype sticker. If all this sounds like your cup of tea when it comes to GBV, then perhaps it’s time for another faster than expected motel check in with Uncle Bob.
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 Starsin 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.