Having formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1983, Guided By Voices are nearly as old as the author of this album review. They were responsible for my favourite indie rock album of last year, ‘Sweating the Plague’, which they followed up earlier this year with the rather less impressive ‘Surrender Your Poppy Field’.
The band have outlasted (and in some cases outlived) most of their contemporaries from the 1980s college rock scene and acquired a reputation for playing sets of lengths for which bands half their age can only dream of summoning up the stamina. Guided By Voices continue to produce and perform material of a quality some critics would claim artists of their age and longevity do not have a right to play and record.
I am happy to report that ‘Mirrored Aztec’, GBV’s 31st full-length album, upholds the band’s reputation for producing reliably consistent, punchy, and solid indie rock songs. While it possibly isn’t as good as ‘Sweating the Plague’, it is a great collection of gorgeous, summery melodies like ‘To Keep an Area’ that makes a near-ideal soundtrack to what’s looking like it could become an Indian summer.
That being said, songs like ‘Haircut Sphinx’ have a more urgent rhythm to them which one can imagine going down a storm on the band’s autumn US tour (circumstances permitting). One of the strengths of ‘Mirrored Aztec’ is the way in which its songs maintain their infectiousness, even when their pacing alters.
Indeed, the album is remarkably unrushed-sounding considering that it’s the fifth album in 19 months by a group of late-middle-aged men who are known for playing sets of three or more hours’ duration. Another intriguing aspect to it is its harking back to the band’s roots; ‘Bunco Men’, previously available on rarities collection ‘Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft’ (2000), is dusted off and given a new rendition by GBV’s current line-up, while on ‘Math Rock’, frontman and chief songwriter Robert Pollard enlists a children’s choir to pay tribute to his erstwhile contemporaries in the titular genre.
‘Mirrored Aztec’ sees Guided By Voices consolidate their position as the hardest-working men in indie rock. At 62, Pollard isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and nor should he. While the album won’t hold any great surprises for long-standing followers of the band, its melodies are far punchier and more attention-grabbing than those on ‘Surrender Your Poppy Field’ (even if Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr.’s guitar work lacks the harder edges it had on ‘Sweating the Plague’). It should appeal to devotees of GBV’s classic ninth album ‘Under the Bushes Under the Stars’ (1996), and it will also likely be enjoyed by fans of Hüsker Dü, Mission of Burma, Cloud Nothings, and Teenage Fanclub. ‘Mirrored Aztec’ is released via GBV Inc on August 21st. Pre-order it here.