Cub Scout Bowling Pins
Heaven Beats Iowa
Robert Pollard would have been 10 years old when the Ohio Express’ inescapable “Yummy Yummy Yummy” hit number four on the charts in the spring of 1968. Across 32 albums and counting, the Dayton, Ohio musician’s Guided By Voices have often paid homage to the raucous windmill guitar work of the Who, but on the debut EP from Pollard’s new Cub Scout Bowling Pins project, it turns out that— some 53 years later— the bubblegum snap of the Super K Productions hit factory made an impression on him, too.
The staccato, introductory bursts of guitar and snare on “Heaven Beats Iowa,” for instance, match “Yummy Yummy Yummy” beat-for-beat; a jubilant Farfisa organ melody, meanwhile, might owe more to 1910 Fruit Gum Company’s “1,2,3 Red Light”. But while Cub Scout Bowling Pins have a knack for recreating this vintage feel, the song isn’t mere pastiche. In a true-to-GBV way, it’s deceptively complex, cramming countless chord changes into its sub-three-minute framework. Contrasting Ohio Express hired gun Joey Levine’s adenoidal sweetness, Pollard’s vocals are unnaturally eerie and textural. Possibly pitched-down, with a wobbly rotary speaker sound further warping each syllable. The poetry of the chorus’ “it never seems quite real to a ghost behind the wheel” lands more enigmatically than the lovely-to-love-your-lovin’ inanity of bubblegum’s first wave (though there’s something slyly subversive about that aesthetic, too).
Heaven Beats Iowa doesn’t solely go for the saccharine, though. Opener “Hobson’s Beef” is a monstrously meaty, amps-to-11 workout; “Gear Balloon Mousetrap” turns its Mad Libs title an earworm of a mantra; “Funnel Cake Museum” floats some Wings-circa-“Jet”-styled guitarmonies into a supremely stomping arrangement. The 76-second “School School” pummels away with the same kind of care-free, quadrophenic ferocity of GBV’s biggest micro-anthems, and while brief, there’s still plenty of time for Pollard to get in a couple of his legendary high-kicks. The six-song set caps with the truly perfect “Heaven Beats Iowa” fading out into infinity.
While Pollard is certainly one of indie rock’s most celebrated songwriters, it’s still easy to take his presence for granted. Last year alone, he and the current iteration of Guided By Voices project delivered a hefty 48 songs across three full-length releases; 68 songs across three albums the year prior. If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the size and scope of Pollard’s collected discography (which also includes solo albums, side-ventures like Ricked Wicky and Boston Spaceships, and so much more), the 13-minute Heaven Beats Iowa is an impressively compact, approachable, and punchy listen. And like the best kinds of bubblegum, the aftertaste is long-lasting.
Pre-order Heaven Beats Iowa here