Gem – Sunglare Serenades

Sunglare Serenades

The sheer volume of music that has come out of Bob Pollard’s camp is rather daunting. Aside from the many Guided by Voices releases – some of which contain nearly 30 songs – he has the extensive, if somewhat inconsistent, Fading Captain Series of side projects. I’m betting Pollard has had his hand in well over 200 songs pressed to wax, and he isn’t exactly slowing down.
Gem, who have links to Pollard’s camp (singer/songwriters Tim Tobias and Doug Gillard have both spent time in the carousel lineup of GBV, and have each contributed to the Fading Captain series as well), seem to be making their own music now as well. Gem already have a few releases under their belts back in the first half of the 90’s and have made their way back onto the scene with their new album Sunglare Serenades. Surprise: It sounds a little like GBV.
Not surprisingly, Gem’s style of under-produced pop bears a strong resemblance to that pioneered by lo-fi bands like GBV, Archers of Loaf, and Pavement. And while most of those bands (or members of those bands) have moved on to other musical pastures, Gem are still pumping out the sort of short, catchy, fuzzy little lo-fi numbers that most critics are always whining about. That being said, these songs aren’t quite as lo-fi as some of the work by the bands mentioned above. For the most part, the songs are well produced, just not over-produced. You can hear each instrument in the mix, which isn’t terrible because the band members all seem like proficient musicians. And while Pollard packs 20 or 30 short songs on an album (or at least he used to), Gem has chosen to go with a more modest twelve songs.
“Carcass and Crow” opens the album with a shameless Pollard rip – a cheap guitar plays over a throbbing bassline before the slightly distorted vocals come in. Fortunately, the song’s good enough to warrant the derivation, as is much of the album. “A Slow Crawl” is a pitch perfect sugar-pop ride, and “Ghostville Anyway” is just a great indie-rock song. “Nothing but the Quiet Now” starts off slow and affecting, but mounts to a thick, wonderful guitar climax. The last song, “Razors in the Sky,” is a veritable how-to of indie-rock guitar, shifting and winding its way through nearly six minutes of slashing axe work.
I wish I could find something negative to say about this album (I’m like that), but there’s nothing here but excellent songwriting and impressive musicianship from indie rock veterans. I suppose their only fault is the fault of the genre – how much lo-fi songwriting do you really need? I suppose it’s up to you, but if you’re a serious fan of this kind of thing, you can’t go wrong with Gem.