Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Guided By Voices - Cool Planet

"Cool Planet"

Release date: 19 May 2014
Cool Planet
12 May 2014, 17:30 Written by Stephen Jenkins
On Cool Planet (album number 22, the band’s sixth since their reunion in 2010, and their second so far in 2014), Guided By Voices make yet another bid for the title of greatest rock and roll band of the late 20th Century. The late 20th Century. Because although these veterans of alt-rock have more than proven that they still have the gusto to muster up album after album in the 21st century, their sound today is one that still grasps and clambers at the halcyon days of their mid-90s output.

This isn’t to say that Cool Planet is a bad album, just that it would probably be much more enjoyed by everyone involved if it was still acceptable to wear tie-dye t-shirts and if everyone still thought that skateboarding was cool. Because when there is any new offering from Guided By Voices these days there is a problem – mythology. Anyone who knows their rock music history will understand how important GBV were in the development of ‘indie’ music, how prolific Robert Pollard was (and still is) as a songwriter, and how great the albums Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand were.

So with Cool Planet we’re presented with another set of 18 songs from the Dayton, Ohio band while that heavy cloud of cultural baggage hangs heavy over our heads. Now, you may be thinking: “what’s so bad about that?” And indeed, if this was any other band of such a legendary ilk offering us another record, we would welcome it with open arms and the likelihood is that no matter how good it is we would enjoy it and praise it and stroke it and hug it in our sleep (see last year’s return of My Bloody Valentine for example). But this never happens with Guided By Voices, because they’ve proven to be a bit hit and miss over their comeback years, pretty much as they had proven themselves to be a bit hit and miss two decades ago.

This hit and miss comes naturally with such a prolific output of material. All credit to Pollard and Guided By Voices for such a mammoth back catalogue but sometimes greatness is better measured in quality than quantity. Of course, 20 track long albums with an average song length of 1 minute 30 seconds is kind of the GBV thing, but nowadays it simply feels outdated. On Cool Planet, Guided By Voices perform a balancing act on that fine line between killer and filler. The record could so easily find itself lost in Guided By Voice’s previous work, let alone in our age of readily available and consequently easily dispensable albums.

Putting once ex-drummer Kevin March back behind the skins after the exit of Kevin Fennell has injected a bit of thump-crunch into that trademark discorded lo-fi sound. This move seems to have taken a positive effect on the band as a whole, giving each song a sense of forward momentum. Where in other GBV recent albums you might have come across a song which ambled straight into an early grave, the songs of Cool Planet thrust and punch their way to triumphant conclusions. Take “Hat of Flames” for example, during which guitars are practically secondary instruments to the driving force of tom-toms and cymbal crashes.

This all brings a much needed sense of urgency about Cool Planet. Otherwise broody numbers such as “These Dooms” and “Fast Crawl” are bolstered by a well concluded crescendo of guitars and drums where on other GBV albums they would usually peter out into dissatisfying faded outros. There is also a refreshingly poppy quality to Cool Planet. Don’t worry, we’re not talking poppy as in Miley Cyrus or Avicii poppy, more classic Beatles or Rolling Stones poppy. Songs such as “All American Boy”, “The Bone Church”, “Males of Wormwood Mars” and “Psychotic Crush” have that undefinable pop appeal, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Thankfully, moments of quality are more frequent than lacking on Cool Planet, and they are certainly worth paying attention to. As they have done time and time before, Guided By Voices work their music within those pithy musical paradoxes which established them as one of alternative music’s finest assets. Songs are satisfying in their brevity, powerful in their simplicity, and utterly compelling in their lack of flashiness. Cool Planet sits perfectly in the balance of effortless craftsmanship and half-arsed laziness. Just where it should be.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next