Guided by Voices

Cool Planet

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Being proud sons of Ohio, the members of Guided by Voices know that when the weather gets cold, it's good to have an indoor project to keep yourself occupied, and as a rare polar vortex hit the Midwest with one of the worst winters in history in 2013-2014, GbV responded in the way they know best: they hunkered down and made an album. Guided by Voices recorded 2014's Cool Planet in the midst of brutal cold snaps and extreme snowfall, and it sounds a little less lively than most of their best work, as if a chill in the air was holding them back. Despite that, the band sounds well focused and determined to make the most of the material, with the emphasis resting on the spontaneity of these sessions. Cool Planet was released only four months after GbV dropped Motivational Jumpsuit, making this a speedy project even by the standards of this prolific band, and the performances feel like the governing philosophy was "first thought, best thought." Perhaps because Cool Planet was conceived and recorded so quickly, Tobin Sprout gets a bit more room for his songs this time out, and he delivers some real gems; "All American Boy" is the most powerful and evocative tune on this album, while "The Bone Church," "Narrated by Paul," and "Ticket to Hide" are all lovely examples of Sprout's ethereal melodic sense, which makes for an interesting counterpoint with Robert Pollard's more straightforward hooky rock numbers. (Though the Mick Ronson riff that opens "Psychotic Crush" shows he still knows how to swagger.) Pollard's songs sound, well, like Robert Pollard songs, which is to say that some are splendid and some are ordinary, but if you've ever been a fan, "Table at Fool's Tooth," "Pan Swimmer," and "Bad Love Is Easy to Do" will remind you why, and this album easily captures Guided by Voices doing what they've always done and always will do -- ride their seemingly endless font of catchy tunes and crunchy riffs into infinity, and though this is no career-defining masterpiece, as a make-busy project for five guys stuck in a snowstorm, it's pretty great.

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