With 2012’s trilogy of LPs from the reformed ‘classic-era’ Guided By Voices, Robert Pollard undoubtedly exceeded expectations for the band’s recording comeback. The challenge for 2013 is to prove that the GBV reunion is no fleeting detour from his other projects but a living, breathing and ongoing entity. Pollard has also set the productivity bar high with a semi-joking promise to put out three GBV albums a year until the end of time. Not only that but ahead of this year’s supposedly only first LP, there have already been five tie-in singles and a standalone EP released. Consequently, English Little League feels more about sustaining relentless continuity rather than providing radical revelations.
Not that this ‘business as usual’ approach is necessarily a bad thing of course, given that Pollard’s cottage industry work ethic has kept him in booze and microphones to twirl pretty solidly over the years without alienating his highly devout faithful followers too often. So it’s not meant as an insult to say that English Little League is largely a fans-only affair. Continuing the leaner and more taught aesthetics that marked-out the final entry in last year’s triumvirate, The Bears For Lunch, this freshly-baked long-player is a largely mid-fi selection of chunky power-pop, sparingly interspersed with the occasional eccentric diversion.
Hence, there’s a spirited run of reliable rockers to confirm that Pollard’s melody machine is still functioning well, with the thuggish “Trashcan Full Of Nails,” the jangling early-R.E.M. flavoured “Noble Insect,” the glam-boogying “Crybaby 4 Star Hotel,” the insistent harmony-coated “Flunky Minnows” and the testosterone-fuelled “W/ Glass In Foot” being the most notable nuggets. In the weirder corners the choice cuts are a little harder to find but the warped Sabbath-meets-Led Zep stewing of “Know Me As Heavy” and “Taciturn Cave” along with the distorted unhinged psych-prog of “Reflections In A Metal Whistle” eventually float to the surface.
Naturally, those of us enthralled by the still fresh return of Tobin Sprout to the GBV family will gravitate towards his songs sprinkled in amongst Pollard’s. Whilst it’s a little frustrating that three of his latest songs were relegated to recent B-sides (although you can find them rescued on the Glue On Bicycle bonus CD-EP available to some early-buyers of English Little League), Sprout does happily deliver the album’s best track in the shape of the dreamy folk-rocking “Islands (She Talks In Rainbows).” His other two compositions – the delightfully fuzzy “The Quiet Game” and the lilting hymnal “The Sudden Death Of Epstein’s Ways” – may be less transcendental but they nevertheless remind us why the GBV reunion would be rather more unenticing without his presence.
So there we have it, more of the recent same and sufficiently good enough to keep the good ship GBV sailing onwards. However, a little more variety and a few more Tobin Sprout songs next time around would certainly help to prevent any risk of drifting into more ponderous waters.