“DD Review: Guided by Voices – How Do You Spell Heaven.”

Score: 8.5/10


To me, Guided by Voices are more proof than anything else that music can’t save the world, because they make the sort of mind-bogglingly invigorating pop/rock, bare and full of rich lyricism, that can’t help but attract thoughts of the concept of “perfection,” and yet here we are anyway on the verge of a nuclear war. Who knows why all this is happening? I mean I wouldn’t say there was a SURPLUS of peace and harmony before Trump took office, but da**ed if it’s obviously gotten better since. Eh, no time to debate about this crap now.
And along the lines of how GBV very much encourage a whiplash-inducing perspective on life (check the brief little songs, the new album out every year and all that jazz), they do remind me of John Barth’s famous “floating opera” metaphor for life: that it’s like an opera you can watch, but just as soon as you’ve grasped its essence, that essence shifts such as it were a boat floating down a river, and you have to rush to the next point just to glimpse what you will think is, or what you will artificially tabulate in your mind as its being, life’s true essence, all over again.
Now, normally I would say it’s perilous to expect too much from a BAND which is like nearly 30 years old (putting its members probably somewhere in their 50’s), but as we all know, this has been one wild and special year in America, in its own way, and right off the bat even looking at the song titles, I can do critiques on these alone. Let’s see: “the birthday democrats,” that theoretically handles the melancholy surrounding a would-be gleeful occasion now mired in political futility. “King 007” is obviously a statement on Trump. “Boy W” comments on all the “little-boy” Cubs [1] fans out there who go to excess in their World Series celebrations. “Cretinous Number Ones” comments on vapid pop music. And “Steppenwolf Mausoleum”? I dunno, but I’m in, whatever it is! Actually it is one musical reference combined with a nod to a Beirut song, perhaps.
As far as actually listening to this album goes… eh, yeah, I’ll probably do that, at some point. I mean, I am writing a review about it. Listening to it would certainly be in good custom. See, though, what I am doing right now is I am VIBRATING — these words are literally writing themselves. It could be that I’m based in a little sh**-hole town right now known as Terre Haute, Indiana, which in fact shares the Midwestern segment of Interstate 70 with Guided by Voices’ own Dayton, Ohio (a place where I once saw a life-size cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe right on the sidewalk, making me a little less ashamed of being in Indiana).
Well, getting down to that pertinacious foray of actual music libation, “The Birthday Democrats” opens with one annoying guitar riff, before revving its engine into something refreshingly approximating late-‘00s Dinosaur Jr., especially since Dinosaur Jr. seems reluctant to do this these days. “King 007” resounds immediately as darker and tenser, and then, more PUNK — think, like, if No Age were a lot older, and not as he**-bent on soaking their album in feedback. We even get some palm muting on the third verse here or so. As any reader of this site knows, I am an Eve 6 fan, so palm muting gives me like a giant boner. “King 007” switches back to its former jazzy lugubriousness about three minutes in and, da** we have a bona fide 2017 rock opera! It’s even tailor-made to the 2017 American attention span (clocking in at three and a half minutes as it does).
Let’s remember now, kind reader, that Guided by Voices came out roughly during the time of hair metal, themselves nestling in the underbrush as a sort of lo-fi… thing, and from the way it sounds on How Do You Spell Heaven, it’s like they’ve never even HEARD of any instruments other than guitar, drums and bass. But on “Boy W,” the band has an interesting flair for still creating various layers within the mix, certain bass grooves popping off with boisterous reverb and attitude to where the soundscape still comes off as jungle-like.
“Steppenwolf Mausoleum” is vaguely metal (like a wimpy Queens of the Stone Age, kinda), after a haunting, crypt-like opener of ambient riffage. By “Pearly Gates Smoke Machine,” it’s clear that the band is just SHOWING OFF their coolness, because the tour through the classic rock continues on from Steppenwolf to T. Rex, toting along a guitar which mind you brings to the table just another increased tablespoon or two of TRANSLUCENCE, or warmth. There. And to think, I was trying to avoid corniness in this review. “Pearly Gates Smoke Machine” is instrumental.
[1] The Chicago Cubs have the tradition of flying a flag that says “W” on it standing for “win,” after every time they come out victorious.

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