It's been a while since I checked in with former GBV frontman Robert Pollard's release schedule (June 11th 2008 in fact) and a belated effort to do so now quickly unearths a whopping 4 new records. The kind of output that makes even John Frusciante look lazy. With Pollard's usual hit-rate in mind, I was expecting at least four new tracks for my ever expanding best-of-Pollard playlist.
Boston Spaceships - Brown Submarine - Sept 16th 2008 - 3 Stars
First up is the debut album from Pollard's 'new' band - the Boston Spaceships. A collaboration with former GBV band mate Chris Slusarenko (also featured in The Takeovers) and Decemberist John Moen, the band marks an effort to re-capture that 'full band' sound that has been missing from many of Pollard's post-Guided By Voices projects.
Go For The Exit starts the record with a slice of classic Pollard, as thoughtful lyrics wind over a simple guitar, before exploding into power chords - while Ready To Pop threatens to re-visit the successful magic of GBV's final album, but somehow never quite takes off. There's little in the way of experimentation here, so the simple-but-fun Rat Trap provides a welcome break from the otherwise even footing of much of the album, which is generally operating on cruise control, with only two songs even building beyond the 3 minute mark.
Circus Devils - Ataxia - November 11th 2008 - 2 Stars
The Circus Devils has been a longer-running side-project for Pollard, partnering with producer Todd Tobias and brother Tim Tobias. Ataxia marks the sixth full-length from the project and like a musical desk drawer, the record is packed full of sound bites and ideas while largely remaining a little incomplete.
Not dissimilar to one of Pollard's own art collages, the record has countless moments that catch your attention and a scattergun approach will always hit a few targets. The meandering epic Fuzz In The Street fails to gain any traction, while promising moments appear with the unfulfilled mystical intro to He Had All Day or the Procol Harum-esque spoken word of Stars, Stripes and Crack Pipes.
Just as your patience may be wearing a little thin however, another bonifide gem is polished out of the album's rough diamonds - as the gentle intro of The Girls Will Make It Happen gives way to a pounding drums and hypnotic lyrics that thunder along at a relentless and engaging pace.
Robert Pollard - The Crawling Distance - Jan 20th 2009 - 2.5 Stars
After the excellent albums Off To Business and Normal Happiness, Pollard seemed to be finding his stride in a world without GBV and the hit rate was soaring. Sadly the magic has momentarily gone again and we're back to the plodding middle-lane driving of tracks like No Island or It's Easy. Lyrically, as ever, there's plenty of interest - but without fully developed musical backing there's little to really grab your attention.
With the turbulent peaks and troughs of most Pollard records there's nearly always a killer track but, unfortunately, here the sea is calm and little breaks the surface. As a consequence, there's no real stinkers either, but I'd gladly drop a couple of tracks in return for that one diamond.
Boston Spaceships - Planets Are Blasted - Feb 17th 2009 - 2.5 Stars
A mere five months after their debut, the Boston Spaceships are back with a sophomore effort - Planets Are Blasted. Rather than build on the strengths of the original however, the record unfortunately misses the mark, lacking muscle and falling back into the one-dimensional trap that plagues much of Pollard's projects. Big O Gets An Earful tries to build up a wall of sound before fading away and Canned Food Demons makes a brave effort to bring the album up a notch, but it's too little too late. Sounding like it was recorded in parts, the record again lacks that power generated by a full live band holing up in a studio for 9 months. Or 9 days for that matter.
Circus Devils - Gringo - April 14th 2009 - 4 Stars
Before I'd even finished writing this review (quite literally) details of another Circus Devils album arrived in my inbox - their seventh album, Gringo, due out on April 14th on Happy Jack Rock Records.
It's arrival was not a moment too late. Forget the descriptions ("1970's Morricone-esque with a South Western flavour") and focus on the music, as Gringo is the easy highlight of this current run of releases. The album's more acoustic bias immediately dispels the tinny studio sound that has marred many of the releases cover here and in stark contrast to the Circus Devils' last record there's a full sound with a cohesive approach and multiple layers of interest. The epic Monkey Head takes the prize for album highlight, with a sprawling - almost prog - approach played out through booming acoustic guitars. Thumping sing-a-long Easy Baby ebbs and flows beautifully while Witness Hill wraps up an engaging record with suitable style.
Thanks Bob, I'll check back in six months.