You’d think ushering in a new decade with a sold-out New Year’s Eve show featuring a 100-song, four-hour set would slow down Guided By Voices’ momentum just a skosh. But if there’s one thing you should understand about lead singer Robert Pollard’s musical and artistic output, the dude’s creativity doesn’t have an off switch.
With its title a nod to the film The Wizard of Oz, Surrender You Poppy Field is the legendary Dayton, Ohio band’s 30th studio album (and Pollard’s 105th, counting his myriad side projects). Mining the lo-fi territory that largely defines Guided By Voices’ career, Poppy Field is a 15-song sonic collage alternating between hook-laden four track hiss, lone basement-dwelling microphone recordings, and fully-produced studio anthems; a dizzying array of disparate tracks that, oddly enough, coalesces into a cohesive album quite spectacularly; a mixtape take on an album proper.
Mini-magnum opus “Year of the Hard Hitter” opens the album, with Pollard’s vocals ringing out over Kevin March’s steady percussion and rhythm guitarist Bobby Bare Jr.’s chugging power chords, while Doug Gillard lets loose with a laser-guided guitar solo. “Whoa Nelly” is a land lubber’s sea shanty, complete with a netherworldly chorus and see-saw string orchestration, while “Arthur Has Business Elsewhere,” “Cul-De-Sac Kids” and album closer “Next Sea Level” are augmented with instrumentation such synthesizers, carnival organs, a string section, and whistling that not only feels organic to the songs, but vital to their structure. “Man Called Blunder” is simply classic, beer-glass-in-the-air Guided by Voices, with Gillard’s jangling guitar lines reverberating against Pollard’s harmonic, clarion vocals.
“Volcano,” however, is Poppy Field’s standout track. Built on Mark Shue’s walking bassline, this song is simple but stirring, with chiming guitar embellishments adding a new wave wistfulness that could make this song the spiritual cousin to The Cars’ “Double Life.” “Volcano” is one of those perfect pop songs that explodes into colors, moods and textures, proving Pollard has easily put in his 10,000 hours writing songs, three times over now.Surrender You Poppy Field may be one of Guided By Voices more experimental albums (which is saying a lot for this band), but it’s a rewarding journey from beginning to end, with nary a dud in the cooler. We’ll have to wait a couple of months to see where Pollard and Co. go next, but if this album is any indication, they aren’t running out of steam any time soon.