Guided By Voices: Nowhere To Go But Up [Album Review]

Guided By Voices
Nowhere To Go But Up
GBV Inc. [2023]

Sixteen. That’s how many albums the current lineup of Guided By Voices has managed to release since they formed in 2016. The band (as a concept) just celebrated its 40th anniversary a few months ago, with a pair of shows in Dayton that drew fans from across the country and beyond. But it’s kind of mind-boggling to consider that the 2023 incarnation of GBV (Robert Pollard, Doug Gillard, Mark Shue, Bobby Bare Jr., Kevin March, and producer Travis Harrison), which has only existed for about 7 of those 40 years, has been responsible for more than a third of the band’s albums.

Nowhere To Go But Up is the latest in that impressive run. Clocking in at a mere eleven tracks, it feels like a slightly more refined take on the previous LP, Welshpool Frillies. That album was full of catchy, fairly short power-pop with some quieter acoustic numbers thrown in for good measure. This time the emphasis is on Bob’s songwriting skills: the songs are tight and well-developed, most exceeding three minutes (!) but never feeling like they overstay their welcome. Despite the longer track times there aren’t many choruses to be found, but that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t full of hooks—this is Robert Pollard we’re talking about after all.

Bob’s voice is in excellent form again, and Harrison’s production sounds huge, with Gillard and Bare’s guitars punching their way out of the speakers and March and Shue propelling the songs forward. The opening trifecta is one of the strongest in recent memory: “The Race Is On, The King Is Dead” feels like an anthemic successor to “Echos Myron” or “Planet Score;” “Puncher’s Parade” is full of minor-key melancholia and distorted guitars; and “Local Master Airplane” chugs along with Bob indulging in some fun wordplay with some local Dayton Easter eggs included (“10 billion clocks / In on the beat / Synchronized feet / On the pummeling crumbling / Rip rapped path / Through the horror world”). There are plenty of other highlights: “How Did He Get Up There?” caught my four-year-old’s attention (an impressive feat) with its “Hard hats high up / High hats hard up” refrain, and others like “Love Set,” “Jack Of Legs,” and “For The Home” caught mine with their effortless intricacy.

The concise track list and consistent songwriting give Nowhere To Go But Up a strong sense of cohesion. It’s a record that has its own clear identity, but still has that unmistakable GBV DNA too. And while it’s always hard to tell how a new album will fit into the ever-growing puzzle of the band’s discography, Nowhere To Go But Up is a great way to close out an exceptionally strong year of new Guided By Voices music.

“The Race Is On, The King Is Dead” / “Puncher’s Parade” / “For The Home”

Space Gun / Surrender Your Poppy Field / Earth Man Blues

Welshpool Frillies (2023) / La La Land (2023) / Scalping The Guru (2022) / Tremblers And Goggles By Rank (2022) / Crystal Nuns Cathedral (2022) / It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! (2021) / Cub Scout Bowling Pins: Clang Clang Ho (2021) / Earth Man Blues (2021) / Mirrored Aztec (2020) / Surrender Your Poppy Field (2020) / Sweating The Plague (2019) / Warp And Woof (2019) / Zeppelin Over China (2019) / Space Gun (2018) / Ogre’s Trumpet (2018) / How Do You Spell Heaven (2017) / August By Cake (2017) / Please Be Honest (2016) / Suitcase 4 (2015) / Cool Planet (2014) / Motivational Jumpsuit (2014) / English Little League (2013) / Down By The Racetrack EP (2013) / The Bears For Lunch (2012) / Class Clown Spots A UFO (2012) / Let’s Go Eat The Factory (2012)

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Simon Workman

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