Analogue Music | Guided By Voices - August By Cake
Guided by Voices

Guided by Voices

Artist: August by Cake · Written by Scott Elingburg

Date Released

7 April, 2017


Guided by Voices Inc.


1 hour 11 minutes

You can be forgiven for giving up on Guided By Voices.

No one will be mad at you. Probably not even Bobby Pollard, head drinker and perpetually preserved rockstar. Because, at this point in our lives, GBV are the surviving elder statesmen left over from the Holy Roman Indie Empire of the ‘90s.

So you can roll your eyes at another new GBV release. But you can’t call yourself a believer and pass up GBV’s first release of 2017 and their first release with what may become the best lineup right behind their myth-making “classic lineup.” Pollard doesn’t need a foil within GBV but he does need a handful of designated drivers to take the wheel from time to time. A while that role used to be filled more than adequately by Tobin Sprout (and good god, I miss him), now the rest of his newly assembled band helps toe the line in his place. (Because it takes four bandmates to replace on Sprout.) Bob is capable of carrying the load—he proved as much on the last GBV record, Please Be Honest, where he played every instrument—but he’s also capable of letting his underdone ideas substitute for songs. That’s not an issue on August By Cake, the first LP in a while that sounds like all five members are playing together at the same time and with the same drumbeat on nearly all of the songs.

Drummer Kevin March and guitarist Doug Gillard have each logged enough time in the trenches of GBV to know how to make an album work for your ears. But new additions Mark Shue on bass and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitar make GBV a now full-throated machine set to stun. Pollard is quite adept at operating those machines, large and small.

Almost all of it plays up the best pieces of the GBV narrative—the sound of a band with too many riffs, too many fuzz boxes, too many melodies, too many beers to cram into a single setting.

Case in point, with the raw talent in the current GBV lineup, it would be a shame not to shine a little spotlight their way—which is why, out of the 32 songs, seven are split among the other players, giving a welcome breather to Pollard’s musical onslaught. There is plenty of room on August By Cake, the bulkiest "double album" of the band’s career (and what Pollard is calling his 100th studio album, though that is highly suspect and I’m certain it is almost entirely non-verifiable but we all will, of course, take Uncle Bob as his word), and almost all of it plays up the best pieces of the GBV narrative—the sound of a band with too many riffs, too many fuzz boxes, too many melodies, too many beers to cram into a single setting.

The sound of August By Cake is the sound of renewal, but also triumph. It’s in the way Pollard barks the announcement at the record’s entrance and in the marching horn step that comes after it on “5 Degrees Below Zero.” It is also in the album’s microscopic moments: the resigned pride in “High Five Hall of Famers,” the cheap science fiction of “Substitute 11,” and the earnestness of a song like “Whole Tomatoes.” But the feel of the record (encouraging? powerful? bold, even?) is akin to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, or a less diffident version of The Beatles’ White Album. It’s a high mark of creativity and also a proclamation of the awareness of its own creativity. Full of effort while sounding effortless. Pollard seems completely at ease as the new elder statesmen of all things indie rock without actually cashing in--or cashing out--our goodwill.

In the past Pollard has been criticized for needing an editor, but with August by Cake basically running the entirely length of three Bee Thousands, we should revise that. He doesn’t need an editor; he needs a band of musicians who help his singular visions come through. Because August by Cake sounds like Pollard is beginning again; all over again, one more time.