Marmite in excelsis.
Surrender Your Poppy Field is Guided By Voices' 30th album. 30th. 3-0. Since forming in 1983, the Ohio rockers have maintained an unparalleled level of prolific songwriting and recording, and this month have released their newest full-length project.
As should be expected from the music of frontman Robert Pollard, Poppy Field is a tight compilation of lo-fi art rock, with only four of fifteen tracks exceeding the 3 minute mark. If you were to distil Guided By Voices into a simple musical philosophy, it would be that a song only needs to be as long as stays interesting. Though this newest album is not as extreme in its minute long songs like 1995's Alien Lanes (listen to Game Of Pricks) Pollard's commitment to tight, no-frills indie rock is somehow still refreshing after decades of creativity.
Unfortunately, this songwriting ethos has always had the downside of loading albums like Poppy Field with material that more reserved performers might consider 'b-side' music. Consequently, this album does little to shake the band's traditions of sporadic songwriting quality in each of its albums. Some songs on this album are great. Some definitely aren't. The group is still undeniably imaginative throughout, losing none of their uniquely identifiable sound over the years, but the LP certainly features its fair share of bloated, pretentious and embarrassing moments.
Guided By Voices know what they're doing, and the album's silly and awkward moments are almost certainly done with a tongue-and-cheek self-awareness, but that's not exactly going to change my mind that songs like 'Year of the Hard Hitter' and it's awful vocal performance aren't shit. But, for every 'Year of the Hard Hitter', there's an excellent 'Steely Dodger'. The album jerks around from good songs with awful singing, to bad songs with exciting instrumentation at breakneck pace. This album is utter chaos but it is undeniably charming.
You'll "have to want to" like this album, but in truth, you always have "had to want to" like the band. This music does not make any effort to make itself accessible, so you'll like it or you won't. I'm not going to tell you that this is really music you need to be spending your precious time trying to force yourself to get into. You will either find the awkward 60-something band endearingly awkward or you will find them horrendously unlikable, and in all honesty that is exactly what Guided By Voices want.
I prescribe you to listen to what I *think* is this album's best tune in 'Stone Cold Moron'. If you like it, give the album a listen. Objectively, this album is not exactly Fleet fucking Foxes, but if you find yourself charmed by its obtuse and rebellious songwriting then GBV will have achieved exactly what they set out to do. Love them or hate them, if you're still making music thirty albums in you must be doing something right. Surrender Your Poppy Field is more of the same from the band and is exactly what we should have expected from such an eclectic group of prolific American musicians. Love them, hate them. Nothing will ever change the sheer defiance of this band's music, and you simply have to respect that.
You will either be fully on board with this album or you will turn it off immediately. Might as well try.
- 6.7 -
'Queen Parking Lot', 'Steely Dodger', 'Stone Cold Moron'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.