New Music | Friday Roll Out: Guided By Voices, Chief Cleopatra

For the Texas native Jalesa Jessie, it seems music is as expansive as her vocal range. Growing up with gospel, encountering different styles and genres enabled her to expand her reach. Now singing and performing as Chief Cleopatra, it didn’t take long for the soulful artist to shift gears to create a unique blend of soulful pop occasionally mixed with dance sensibilities on the Luna EP (Park The Van) debut.

On the opening “Friends,” Cleopatra effortlessly opens the track acapella as notes are added around because offering a dynamic shift and Cleo finds her groove. Her voice is captivating, singing with vigor, energy, and fluidity. The haunting “Dreamlights” follows and seems dire. Her words are gripping as she battles with her past. The music offers a lazy backdrop but her melody and harmonies throughout it are captivating. The overly distorted guitar and percussion capture her mood thoroughly, but she moves forward, never looking back. It’s an odd number that will leave you floored. “Afrodite” plays within a standard verse-chorus-verse construction, but it doesn’t need more than that. The guitars drive’s the song allowing Cleopatra the freedom she needs to create a mood of sheer joyfulness. It’s entrancing.

With just her 5-song Luna EP, it isn’t difficult to gauge where Chief Cleopatra is heading. It’s a sweet reverie of songwriting but leaves listeners intrigued for more. Much more.

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Does it ever get old and do things really need to change? This is the question pondered when considering the evolution of music, the growth of an artist. In the case of Guided By Voices, things are questionable. With every subsequent release, the band, led by songwriter Robert Pollard, we always expect a set of songs that show similarity to a previous album, but only in its written prowess. We all know it’s going to be something good and we’ll usually toss it by the wayside just in that manner: “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it’s good, so I’ll give it a spin” and it always is. Should we expect anything different from the band, or are we simply comfortable in keeping with our expectations?

The band has released its first album of 2022 with Crystal Nuns Cathedral (GBV, Inc.) and yes, the Pollard and the band have released another great album (as you lazily yawn) but this one is a bit different. The development of songs here seems much more organic than previous releases, and no, they’ve always been so but here there’s a natural build, without any forceful deliveries. The opening “Eye City” is…surprising. Its momentum is slower and unwinding, allowing instruments to find their own individual way, conjoining almost through osmosis. The strings here take a prominent role, as they do on other songs, and we get a sense of GBV’s broadening range. We find more of it on “Climbing A Ramp” where its dominance is only dwarfed by Pollard’s voice. Drums and guitars build around the melody here, all moving in a singular direction.

But what’s exciting about Guided By Voices are the pristine melodies throughout its crisp songwriting, and that’s what we’re all here for. “Never Mind The List” is subtle in its delivery but guess what? It’s memorable and catchy AF! It’s the song that’s likely to make a convert of even the most hesitant of listeners. There also seems to be a change of sorts here because “Forced To Sea,” (a clever take on wordplay with homophonic meaning), is sparse in instrumentation, building slowly around few chords almost drifting, yet crashing along shores of musical notes filling with life and depth in the end. Nothing goes the way one might assume; “Eyes Of Your Doctor” is constructed around a guitar line that may have you believing its going in one direction but then maneuvers into another, with its rhythm. The dynamic shift you may expect finds another lane to take.

With Guided By Voices’ Crystal Nun Cathedrals, the band delivers something quite unexpected. Pollard continues to challenge himself and listeners with his songwriting and his continued evolution is a breath of fresh air. The band has found a formula that works for it but doing the same thing over and over is monotony. It’s a different look for the band and one of the band’s greatest works yet. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, just listen, and when you get to the title track, you’ll thank the band later.

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