Crystal Nuns Cathedral by Guided By Voices

Release date: March 4, 2022
Label: GBV Inc Records

As a reviewer, I have to say up front that I am not a Guided By Voices super-fan or a completist. I can barely keep up with their output and I think I stopped following them closely around Alien Lanes. In those days, Robert Pollard and company sounded like they were recording at the bottom of a deep well and I think that put me off them for a long time. Pollard has never stopped writing and regularly graces his devoted fans with two or three or more releases in a year. I am not clear on whether he should curate his songs more closely, or whether it is best to let him run loose and keep on writing at a frenetic pace. For starters, the production is crisp and sharp. He also has Doug Gillard (Nada Surf) on board, and that may well be his secret weapon. The rest of his band is equally good, so Pollard is set up to succeed.

Opener ‘Eye City’ hits hard, and Pollard is in fine voice. Gillard’s string arrangements on this tune are also excellent. Every time I hear a cello I am enraptured. The guitar interplay is also really cool. ‘Redevelop’ offers up a bit of modern prog rock, at least in the musical arrangement. The band is in top form too. Really swell! ‘Climbing a Ramp’ is fine work, replete with strings, something I appreciate when paired with a song this strong.

‘Never Mind The List’ is a strong contender for best song on the record. The riff is vaguely familiar, but it truly stand on its own. I appreciate Pollard as a wordsmith, and the music is equally compelling. ‘Come North Together’ is a bit discordant and almost seems like a treatise on growing old with someone. The opening on ‘Forced to Sea’ is almost like the tolling of church bells, sounding like a warning. The song is short and the arrangement is complex, and it ends all too soon. ‘Huddled’ sounds like a Who outtake from one of their rock operas, complete with bass lines reminiscent of John Entwistle. ‘Eyes Of Your Doctor’ has a great chorus, and that really tied it up for me when I was ready to skip forward. ‘Mad River Man’ has a strong melodic structure, at once complicated and catchy. The final title track is short and sweet, and I could see it being great fun in concert. I also like the backing vocals here.

Is this Guided By Voices’ best record? If you read the press release, it will tell you it is. I really can’t say, as I haven’t followed the band closely. But if you are curious about the band, this would be as good a place as any to start. Recommended for all Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices fans. And for anyone who is intrigued by complex arrangements and occasionally arcane lyrics.

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