I recently praised an older band (Meat Puppets) for keeping active, so I would hate to court hypocrisy by suggesting another, Guided by Voices, take a(nother) break. Unfortunately, English Little League—the fourth album since the "classic" GbV reunited—indicates that the group is running on fumes. Sure, the signature fractured pop is still there, and few groups can muster better song titles ("Sir Garlic Breath," "Biographer Seahorse"), but the material often plods along.
One clear warning sign is that no song on the album clocks in at less than a minute—or even 90 seconds—which is unheard of for these masters of the punchy, demented ditty. Instead, this album is bogged down with songs like "Taciturn Caves," a cruncher that drags for nearly four minutes. Even album opener "Xeno Pariah," issued forth with a glorious, crystalline guitar line, feels soggy at just over two minutes.
English Little League does further the case that Tobin Sprout is the MVP of the reunited group. His "Islands (She Talks in Rainbows)" juggles dark guitars and melancholy melodies into a dark new-wave masterpiece. Sprout's "The Quiet Game" is trashcan Neil Young, which is always welcome, and he drapes "The Sudden Death of Epstein's Ways" with a beautiful warble.
From the bright guitars of "Send to Celeste (And the Cosmic Athletes)," to the moody surrealism of "Noble Insect," and the rockabilly haze of "Crybaby 4 Star Hotel," Guided by Voices are always worth inconsistency for the redeemable; here's just hoping there's more next time around.