The Crawling Space
The singer-songwriter of Guided By Voices releases his new album to little surprise. His 19th solo album, and 10th since the band’s dissolution, isn’t lacking in anticipation for a lack of craftsmanship, but there’s a doubt that anything remarkable could have been accomplished since his last album, Robert Pollard Is Off to Business, which was released in June 2008. The track “Imaginary Queen Ann” seems like an homage to 90’s teen alternative rock – basic guitar riffs swaying at a slow enough pace that 51-year-old Pollard won’t break a hip, layered with predictable lyrics about an ambiguous muse. And “It’s Easy” expresses the difficulty that came with writing the song. Good enough for die-hard fans; not enough to get you hooked; and asking you to listen to an entire catalogue of Pollard’s work just to appreciate this mediocre album is a little dire.
Skin of Evil
The opening track off of Skin of Evil begins well enough; “Cloud of Evil” sets the tempo with some ambient keyboard and beat loops and haunting guitar reminiscent of dredge and Explosions in the Sky. But once the vocals begin, the song takes a sharp turn onto a path of laughable seriousness and premature experimentation. Thinking of the singer as some 19-year-old kid aching to mimic the style of Kings of Leon in a tremolo-crooning voice brings both a chuckle and a tear.
Feeling sorry for their over-the-top layering and lack of song-writing abilities comes to a stop with a glance at some of the song titles: “Astoria, Menthool Lite, Hilltop, Wave of Evil 1982,” “Nineteen, One God, One Dull Star,” and “Biloxi, In a Grove, Cleans out His Eyes.”
Blood Bank EP
Riding high off the success of his debut For Emma, Forever Ago, the pressure was on for Justin Vernon to follow up his 2007 release with a work of equal caliber.
On his new EP Blood Bank, Vernon offers four soulful tracks, each distinct in sound and instrumentation, yet all interwoven with characteristic sincerity, and moving sentiment. On the pop-rock title track, Vernon sings the story of a chance meeting with a girl at a blood bank that turns into a warm kiss inside a car.
“Beach Baby” is a desolate duet with his acoustic and steel guitars that is very much in line with the intimate wintery songs on For Emma, Forever Ago, while “Babys,” a song of praise for summer, features hurrying keyboard riffs for the first and last third of the song. “Woods” is an a capella repetition of “I’m up in the woods/ I’m down on my mind/ I’m building a still/ to slow down the time.” What the song lacks in instrumentation, it makes up for in vocoder effects, and Vernon’s howling wolf falsetto fits the lone, yet mighty forest spirit of the song. The Blood Bank EP keeps both fans and newcomers on their toes – a comforting companion for the remainder of the good old winter.