Essential New Music: Guided By Voices’ “Welshpool Frillies”

After penning a review of 2018’s Space Gun—and compiling a well-received (sarcasm) ranking of Guided By Voices’ 25 LPs up to that point—I half-seriously told MAGNET’s editor that I was retiring from writing about the band and its genius auteur Robert Pollard. (I did end up doing a blurb about the then-upcoming Warp And Woof a few months later.) It wasn’t that I’d stopped listening to and/or caring about Pollard’s songs; rather, serving as the rag’s go-to GBV product tester had gotten stale—and not just for readers. Apart from, “Man, this guy’s so good,” I’d run out of things to say.

If you continue reading, you’ll realize that’s still the case, but the release of Welshpool Frillies, GBV’s 12th outing (not a typo) since Space Gun, has prompted a brief return. Sorry.

For my money (free stream), Welshpool Frillies is the best effort from this incarnation of GBV (second in line is 2020’s Mirrored Aztec), which features guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr., bassist Mark Shue and drummer Kevin March. Many diehards prefer the usually longer, less-direct fare that has dominated recent records like La La LandCrystal Nuns Cathedral, et al, but I’m a simpleton for melody, so I find the shorter, insistently catchy tunes on Frillies more appealing in general, and that they stand with Pollard’s finest from any era moreso than the former. No, he’s not re-creating “Game Of Pricks” or “Echoes Myron” (why would he?), but try listening to the chiming “Seedling” (with an irresistible Shue bass fill about 20 seconds in and a sneaky-good Gillard riff throughout) or the acoustic “Chain Dance” and not feel some old-school GBV vibes. And please don’t think that anything noted here means that Pollard’s all of a sudden conjured his take on Now That’s What I Call Pop; he’s still fully capable of majestic, twisting/turning Who-esque moments like “Rust Belt Boogie” and the closing title track as well as mini-suite “Don’t Blow Your Dream Job.”

So there you go. Anyway, I recently reworked the GBV album rankings, which MAGNET plans to post soon. Wait’ll you see where Welshpool Frillies ended up. Get those positive comments ready as I head back to the retirement home.

—Matt Hickey