By AVA LIVERSIDGE
Guided By Voices always have, and still do, speak for themselves. Decades after their debut album, Sandbox (1987), the groups remain impressively unscathed by the corporate trappings of a transformed music industry. From the diverse sounds of each album, their unstudied, constant releases, and their ever-changing lineup, frontman Robert Pollard is devoted to one thing, above all: The music.
For anyone who has followed GBV for any amount of time, the release of a new album often comes as no surprise — up to three times a year — but never ceases to inspire what the band has in store; in GBV’s case, there is no correlation between quantity and quality. With the group’s constant production, it’s easy to become restless as Mirrored Aztec is issued already as their second album of 2020. Fans can only savor it for so long before asking the next question: Where’s the third?
Unsurprisingly, Mirrored Aztec is a completely unevolved, unsaturated display of rock music, easily comparable with albums of their early days. Consisting of 18 fairly-short songs, the fair-weathered rockers are once again turned towards for musical truth and ingenuity which they rarely deny their many admirers. The record is one of reliable rock music- an appealing demonstration that neither excludes nor isolates a specific rock taste. There is no fault in a conglomerate of confident guitar, classic production, and quippy lyrics.
Sonically, Mirrored Aztec enriches Guided by Voices’ successful track record of occasional experimentation within strict rock boundaries. The sound is anchored by hard-driving downward strokes on electric guitar and steady, often catchy, hooks. This foundation moves tracks along without distracting from the pensive and trademarked impeding vocals of Pollard. This pattern is occasionally strayed from in tracks like “Please Don’t Be Honest,” a clever response to 2016 album and track “Please Be Honest,” when they move swiftly from their classic guitar hammering to a lullaby of bells and ethereal finger-picking layered with yearning lyrics as the song weaves in and out of different worlds- a perfect example of the slight disruption that Guided by Voices uses to keep their audience guessing. The album also includes notable aural moments like the grungy, almost garage-rock, feel of “Biker’s Nest” or the markedly pop-influenced song “Thank You, Jane,” neither of which lie too far beyond Guided By Voices variating rock sound.
With an introduction as rowdy and telling as single “Haircut Sphinx,” Mirrored Aztec continues as a series of bemusing but clever lines. While, lyrically, Guided by Voices has a history of raising eyebrows as to the meaning of many of their quips, a trained listener learns to refrain from analyzing lines like, “Baffle the babies / Partly to taunt them / The price will be difficult to pay” and rather trust that after 107 albums, Pollard and crew know what they’re talking about, whatever that may be. The confidence and poise exuded by Mirrored Aztec would persuade any listener to nod along anyways. After thirty studio albums, Guided by Voices has not run out of steam and continues to safeguard its fixture in music tradition and legend.
Haircut Sphinx – Guided By Voices