Guided by Voices

It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them!

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It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! Review

by Mark Deming

First there's an acoustic guitar, and then a string section comes in, topped off by some trumpet work that screams 1966 Herb Alpert. Is it possible Robert Pollard just started listening to Love's 1967 masterpiece Forever Changes? Whether it's homage or coincidence, Pollard and Guided by Voices circa 2021 kick off their second album of the year, It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them!, by channeling Arthur Lee with the song "Spanish Coin." Even more surprising than the similarity to that L.A. psychedelic landmark is how beautifully they pull it off. Even by the busy standards of this hardworking act, Guided by Voices have been startlingly prolific since Pollard revived the band in 2017, and It's Not Them is the 11th full-length LP they've released in the space of five years. And like nearly all of those albums, it's excellent; this is the strongest and most capable edition of GbV to date, and while Pollard used to be chronically incapable of telling his great songs from his OK songs, his current level of quality control has been truly remarkable, with few duds along the way. It's Not Them stands out a bit from their work of the period primarily in terms of production; this is a bit glossier than usual for them, and the occasional inclusion of strings and horns mesh well with the grander psych and prog influences of Pollard's tunes. It also includes that rarity, a Robert Pollard song with a coherent narrative, "Dance of Gurus," as he encounters a homeless man who wants (a) a hamburger, and (b) to party. But the best thing about GbV's current renaissance is reveling in just how great a rock band they've become. Guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare, Jr. give the melodies an excellent balance of tuneful swagger and muscular raunch, while bassist Mark Shue and drummer Kevin March deliver the rhythms with precision, joy, and a sure sense of swing. And if you're making a list of great GbV songs, "I Share a Rhythm," "High in the Rain," and "I Wanna Monkey" deserve a place on it. Though some fans will always long for the Guided by Voices glory days of 1994 (Bee Thousand) to 2004 (Half Smiles of the Decomposed), since 2017 Pollard has been leading a band that's a better vehicle for his music in nearly every way, and It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! is superior work from a great rock band. If this is going to be typical from this point on, we're all pretty fortunate.

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