It’s a weird thing when an established act puts out an album under an alias. Remember when Garth Brooks dressed up in a Criss Angel wig and a soul patch and released a record as Chris Gaines? That was messed up. Anyway, Clang Clang Ho! is the new album by Cub Scout Bowling Pins, an alias of the exceedingly prolific Ohio indie rock vets Guided By Voices. The pseudonymous record works as a clever way for the band to collect twenty original songs that find Robert Pollard and company delving into genres otherwise atypical for them such as bubblegum pop and soft rock reminiscent of music played on AM radio back in the day.
Clang Clang Ho! opens with the hippy dippy “Magic Taxi”, a song that fully embraces GBV’s stylistic change with the addition of happy flutes and psychedelic strings. Still, with lyrics like, “I drive a snowman to the equator,” you won’t quickly forget who’s behind the ruse. The songs are kept short, with most having a running time of under two and a half minutes, but don’t let the tracks’ brevity give you the impression this is an album of mere song-ideas. In much the same way GBV have been able to pack their records with brief-yet-indelible delectables, every song on Clang Clang Ho! feels complete.
With tense drumming under a trippy lead guitar line, “Ride My Earthmobile” finds Cub Scout Bowling Pins taking on psychedelic rock. Four songs and seven minutes later, a happy piano and an upbeat rhythm guitar give way to “Nova Mona”, a song that sounds like it could have been the theme to a 1970s TV sitcom. Clang Clang Ho! isn’t without its eccentricities. “Everybody Loves a Baboon” has a loose-lipped Pollard near-beatboxing over a lullaby-like glockenspiel, acoustic guitar, and angelic “oohs”, and “It’s Marbles!” is a garage rock oddity that wouldn’t have sounded out of place during a Saturday morning commercial for a toy aimed at elementary school-aged boys.
Clang Clang Ho!’s final quarter begins with “Human Car”. Here, Pollard sounds like he’s having a blast as he shouts, “Human car!” over a retro rock composition complete with a steady cowbell. “She Cannot Know” is a standout moment that packs a lot into its two-minute runtime. “She cannot know with lover’s eyes, she cannot know the mystery,” Pollard sings over a jangly rhythm that manages to take emotional turns with each poignant chord change. “We” appears just before the album’s end and may sound closer than any other song here to something that could have easily fit well on any one of GBV’s albums from the early 2010s. Clang Clang Ho! is concluded with “What Crawls Also Flies Over”, a capper that feels appropriately optimistic given everything that’s come before.
Mark E. Smith once said, “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.” The same could be said for any Robert Pollard project. And while Clang Clang Ho! definitely makes room for some out of character moments for Guided By Voices instrumentally, Pollard’s one-of-a-kind vocals and their instant association for anyone who’s had even just a casual interest in American indie rock over the last thirty-plus years is unmistakable. Listening to an alternative staple such as GBV indulge their whims by essentially playing musical dress up proves to be an enjoyable experiment.