New music: 3rd new GBV LP this year, another Bob Pollard, a solo record from Ladyhawk and a new Ladyhawk LP in October. BOOOOOOOOOOOOM.
16th Aug 2012Read on Twitter
Waving At The Astronauts
Thundering, rock tinged entry into the Bob Pollard cannon. W/ Doug Gillard
15th Aug 2011Read more 3 star reviews
The New Theory of Everything
The worst crime Bob Pollard can commit is to be forgettable.
6th Jun 2011Read more 2.5 star reviews
Just stumbled across GBV Digital - Guided By Voices' own digital download store. Looks like the perfect place to pick up any of those 130-odd GBV-and-related albums that you may be missing. For completists only. Think I actually have a good chunk of them already...
Dig out a couple of the dozen plus we have reviewed on Chimpomatic here.
Zero To 99
Zero to 99 is the third album in two years from the Boston Spaceships - a side-project of US indie's Mr.Prolific, Robert Pollard formerly of Guided by Voices. Much is made of Pollard's voluminous output - something like 1000 songs registered - so by this point, two decades into his recording career you might wonder if the ideas would be wearing a bit thin, but they're not.
Even if you've never heard Pollard's songs there's often a sense of having "been here before" when you hear them, but it's never easy to say why. Sometimes it's the songwriting, sometimes it's the instrumentation, sometimes it's the production (which varies wildly), but Pollard's barrel must be a deep one because there's no sound of the bottom being scraped. Musically this album covers familiar GBV territory from punky power pop to hippie psychedelia, all of which sounds like it was recorded in a different era - the mix on many tracks recalls the sound of the Kinks or Small Faces, especially when Pollard sings in his faux cockney voice (which I find a bit toe-curling). But all the same, the songs stand up for themselves - strong on melody and chords rather than riffs, and rather deftly utilising the skills of his small and trusted band.
There are a few songs which don't quite reach the standards of the best, but there's always a decent idea or two and nothing ever goes on too long. There are 16 tracks to choose from, and my only real criticism of the album as a whole is that the production values don't always match the songs. Exploding Anthills is a great track and recorded adequately but doesn't get the extra bit of retro polish it needs. Still, that's part of Pollard's lo-fi ethos, and as long as the songs are good then we're more than halfway there.Read more 4 star reviews
Nice at-home-with-Bob-Pollard type article over in the Spin archive.
"I like these old solid-state cassette players for recording - they get a good, bright guitar sound. When Guided By Voices were on TVT, they'd make us go to a studio to make the demos, then a bigger studio to record the album, a process I really don't understand."
Jar Of Jam Ton Of Bricks
By the time you’ve read this short review, there’s every chance that Robert Pollard has released another album under one of his various monickers, such is the prolific nature of the 52 year old Ohio native. Regular Pollard-watchers will not be (overly) disappointed with the new Cosmos project - Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks is a mixed bag of quirks and curveballs with the immediately recognisable and strangely comforting voice of Pollard (mostly) at the reigns.
Whether it’s stripped down acoustic (Don’t be A Shy Nurse, Zeppelin Commander), effortless piano-led pop (Nude Metropolis) or all out rockers (The Neighbourhood Trapeze, Westward Ho) it’s Pollard's voice and melodies, signing signature wildly imaginative/just plain odd lyrics that sits atop it all - holding it in place.That is until he hands over singing/song writing duties with Indie stalwart Richard Davies. The strongly-accented Australian steps up to the mic on four fragmented tracks, that sadly punture any momentum JoJToB threatens to build up.
That said, there’s enough here to keep Pollard fans happy until the next project , unless that next project has already been and gone of course.Read more 3 star reviews
4 New Albums
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.Read more 3 star reviews
There's been a torrent of new releases from indie rock legend Robert Pollard recently (report soon), but that doesn't mean he doesn't have time for extra curricular activities. Check out his website for a nice run-through of his recent art exhibition in New York, and head over to Spin for additional data. While the original art works sell for a highly-collectible $3000 or so, you can buy a great limited edition print (top) over at Hard Pressed Studios, for a thoroughly reasonable $100.
...new stuff from Animal Collective, Anthony And The Johnsons, J Tillman, Robert Pollard, Franz Ferdinand, Phospherescent, Hot Panda, Robyn Hitchcock and U2 according to this giant list of releases up on Pitchfork.
Variety has Steven Soderbergh's next film down as a 3D rock-opera version of Cleopatra, starring Hugh Jackman as Anthony .....and with music from Guided By Voices. Crazy, but possibly true.
Meanwhile, Pollard has refocused again - this time under the moniker of the Boston Spaceships.
Robert Pollard Is Off To Business
After the many, many, many quick-turnaround releases since the demise of GBV, it's often been Robert Pollard's lack of focus that has drawn critism. Albums seemingly get released when any 12 new songs are complete - and the results have been inconsistent to say the least.
With Robert Pollard Is Off To Business however, the charismatic front man's intention to knuckle down and produce a focused 'rock' record is clear from the start. Opener The Original Heart immediatly recalls the sound of 70's Peter Gabriel - a sound Pollard is a sure fan of, after GBV's rousing cover of Solsbury Hill on their Electrifying Conclusion tour. The classic rock continues straight into The Blondes and, while the song is far from being a carbon copy, it's the guitar intro from Led Zeppelin's Tangerine providing the unlikely reference point. While I would have never doubted Pollard as a Led Zeppelin fan (who isn't?) I could probably not have picked a band as seemingly far removed from Pollard's brand of low-fi bombastics.
Off To Business is definitely one of the most direct records amongst the Pollard cannon in quite some time and on the whole it's a rewarding listen. Multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias provides the backing as usual - and while the intention is all good it can sound a little thin in places, almost as if a one-man-band is providing the sound, rather than a fully fleshed out band and lavish production. But seriously, what were you expecting?
Killer track No One But I is easily up there with GBV's best, with it's understated verses providing a calm before the ever ascending chorus. It's quickly followed by the equally engaging Weatherman and Skin Godess, and the condensed rock of To The Path!, which crams the contents of a Yes epic into a mere 3 minutes 25.
At 10 songs and 33 minutes it's over before it has begun and for once I'm left wanting more, not less. After amicably departing from Merge Records after a four year stint, this is the first (of presumably many) records to be released directly by Pollard, through his own label - Guided By Voices Inc. Hopefully it marks the start of a succesful new chapter.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard has been typically busy, with new album Robert Pollard Is Off To Business due on June 16th. Beyond the music however, Fantagraphics are publishing a book of his collages - many of which have formed the artwork for GBV records and associated releases.
Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard is published on July 28th, and you can buy it here.
GBV mainman Robert Pollard is keeping busy in his post-GBV life - as well as releasing two new solo albums - Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love - in October, Fantagraphics are releasing a book of his art Town of Mirrors : The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard next year - there's a preview at NYC's Studio Dante (owned by Michael "Christopher" Imperioli) 9 and 10 Dec
The second album from The Takeovers might suggest that they were the most successful of Robert Pollard's 2006 side-projects (see reviews: 1,2,3) ...but a quick look at the team sheet suggests that nothing has settled down, as there have been a few additions to the squad since then. As well as Turn To Red's Pollard, Slusarenko (GBV) and Dan Peters (Mudhoney), Bad Football enlists super-subs Stephen Malkmus (Pavement), Tad Doyle (Tad) and John Moen (The Decemberists) to pad out the squad.
Malkmus lends his eccentric stunt guitar to opener You're At It, which starts things off in the right direction, with it's lolloping guitars and pounding drums. The album cover is a great Pollard collage and there are plenty of classics song titles here (Father's Favorite Temperature, The Jester Of Helpmeat), although not necessarily corresponding to the best tracks (I Can See My Dog, My Will).
The focussing of Pollard's attention on The Takeovers might suggest a more purposeful record than Turn To Red, but other than the extended team sheet their is no evidence that any more effort went into either the writing or recording of the album. There are definitely a couple more developed songs here, but in typical post-GBV Pollard style it has the sound of a fun side-project, rather than the main event.
The ever-prolific Robert Pollard is back (again) with a new solo LP Normal Happiness. The press release explains how The Beatles or The Who might release two albums a year and that was the norm in those days, and should not be frowned upon now. They seem to be overlooking the fact that between 2005's Beneath A Compound Eye and this second official post-Guided By Voices solo album Pollard has put out another 3 side-project albums on which he is clearly the captain of the ship - The Takeovers, The Keene Brothers and Psycho And The Birds. Plus that Bubble soundtrack mini-LP.
Putting side-projects aside for a moment, this is clearly a Robert Pollard solo album and the closest thing we're going to get to a new Guided By Voices record for the foreseeable future. Where the side-projects are defined by their lack of definition, Normal Happiness is a fairly coherent record - featuring 16 concise chunks of pop-rock which barely clock in at over two minutes each. It follows the late-GBV era of Half Smiles Of The Decomposed in style, playing clever lyrics off against musical themes and concepts. As usual it's a roller-coaster of variable quality, but rather than me giving you a general consensus, let's get specific.
1. The Accidental Texas Who - Near perfect. Bob's outrageous comedy English accent at the start sets the tone for the album and makes the track seem like throw-away brilliance, effortlessly changing gear. 5 stars.
2. Whispering Whip - A moody opening starts the song well, but once that trump card is played it looses a bit of direction. 3 stars.
3. Supernatural Car Lover - A future Song Of The Day. Flawless power-pop, with a catchy underlying guitar lick powering it along. 5 stars.
4. Boxing About - Effortless and beautiful. 3.5 stars.
5. Serious Bird Women (You Turn Me On) - Megaphone vocals undermine this ballad, which stretches a bit thin. 3 stars.
6. Get A Faceful - Catchy, but slightly plodding. Like watching Carl Lewis do the 100m in 13 seconds. 2.5 stars.
7. Towers And Landslides - Starts and ends abruptly, once the mission of the song has been accomplished. 2.5 stars.
8. I Feel Gone Again - A low-key number that starts acoustically and builds into 70's sounding power pop of the Toto calibre (but about 8 minutes shorter). 3 stars
9. Gasoline Rag - Quirky stop-starting number with good production and a galloping chorus, but it's a bit thin on the lyrics. 2.5 stars.
10. Rhoda Rhoda - Average musically. M.O.R. 2.5 stars.
11. Give Up The Grape - Plodding, but nice key changes and a more lyrical drive. 3 stars.
12. Pegasus Glue Factory - Blending in musically from the previous track, the album is now coming back together. This great-title of a song could be a Genesis b-side, building up to an improv sounding jam. 3.5 stars.
13. Top Of My Game - Finger picking and lyrical. A fresh start. 3 stars.
14. Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day - Starts in the middle, like a back-from-the-break lick on the Dukes of Hazzard. Would have liked it to be more of a Skynyrd 10 minute jam. 3 stars.
15. Join The Eagles - Contemplative and lyrical. A possible tuba on the end. 3 stars.
16. Full Sun (Dig The Slowness) - With simple lyrics recalling his own GBV songs (the carpenter's and their wives), there's little room for vocals here - giving way to a superbly building musical jam, packed with bleeping synthesizers. Back to the best. 4.5 stars.
So, there we have it. 50.5 out of a possible 80. 3 stars. Tracks 1, 3 and 16 make it into my ever expanding best-of-bob-projects playlist. The record seems to literally reference Guided By Voices themselves in several places (both musically and lyrically), bringing a nostalgic feeling to some of the records like a magic wand. As we've recently seen with GBV's lo-fi peers Sebadoh and Pavement, when is more too much? If I'm honest I'd be hard pressed to name any GBV record as a flawless classic, but the flaws are what made them classics, and this just follows that same logic.
First, a bit of back story: Jeremy Enigk used to be lead singer in Seattle band Sunny Day Real Estate, whose 1994 album Diary (released on Sub Pop) is quite rightly considered something of a classic. The success of Sunny Day Real Estate's sound lay in the combination of Enigk's incredible, almost angelic, voice and a rhythm section that gave the songs a harder/darker edge. When you take into account that William Goldsmith (drums) and Nate Mendel (bass) went onto join the first incarnation of Foo Fighters, then you get an idea of the calibre of personnel.
And herein lies the problem of an Enigk solo project. Stripped of the energy and aggression that a 'band' provides, it is left to his voice to carry the songs, the music barely putting up a fight in competition. But is singing alone going to make a good album? Meatloaf has a good voice right? A bit harsh maybe.
Things start off well, Been Here Before showcases the complete range of Enigk's talents, starting slow and introspective before getting BIG, so big, that it takes a church organ to provide the song's break. In fact, what goes on pre/post organ could neatly describe what does and doesn't work on the album. The better songs are the quieter, more acoustic songs, where the music assumes a bit of character, rather than being a bit-part vehicle for 'the voice'. Canons, Damien Dreams and Dare a Smile fall into this category. The latter of which could almost be a Guided By Voices song, that is if GBV's Bob Pollard was to put down the bourbon and beers for a moment.
It's when the songs get epic that things start to go awry, City Tonight being a fine example. Not content with a dodgy synth opening, it begins with the line "Am I Late to the Kingdom of Love", before POWER drumming and guitars kick down the door and take the song home. This is Simple Minds in all their 80s glory, it's a song that conjures up an image of Richard Gere in slow-motion - probably on horseback. But Simple Minds not only had massive songs, they also head massive success, so I suppose dues should be given.
Overall, genuine good points beat potential bad (depending on where you stand on Simple Minds). It's actually quite refreshing to hear an honest album by a singer/songwriter doing what he does best, without compromise, rather than the multitude of bands around at the moment simply aching to be cool.
As for a score. I'll start with a 2 and award an extra mark for being a nice alternative to those other Golden-voiced Juggernauts, Keane and Coldplay, (at least Enigk sings like he means every word). But I'm going to have to dock half a mark for Am I Late to the Kingdom of Love. I hate Richard Gere.
Turn To Red
If you thought John Frusciante was prolific (releasing 6 records in six months), think again. Robert Pollard has just released 3 records in one week... and that's just his most recent stuff. As Guided By Voices, he was pretty much kicking out a record a year, alongside literally dozens of solo/side-projects - many under the banner of the Fading Captain series. Check out the excellent GBV Database for a thorough discography, as well as an exclusive collection of rarities to download.
With the demise of GBV in 2004, these releases have taken a more central stage, and with three at once you could never complain of non-proliferation.
The Takeovers is a collaboration with former GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko, with other guests such as Dan Peters from Mudhoney. On paper it is possibly the most conventional of the three new records. The record starts with news-headline-style spoken word track, bringing a sense of impending doom to the proceedings. It also starts the album off with a focus that is rarely seen from Pollard. Insane/Cool It is a lo-fi rocker, but from First Spill Is Free onwards the tone of much of the album is almost concept-like, with a sense of 'the end of the party', and the come-down (of America...?).
OK, let's back that up a bit, as I'm reading way too much into it. Although the news-headline-style voice comes up again later, the message is not carried through with much clarity, and the album quickly looses focus. Sweet Jelly and The Public Dance are highlights, with the instrumental The Public Dance in particular capturing the down beat vibe mentioned earlier, sounding like a club band playing to a near empty room at 3am in the morning.
With a bit more focus the record could have been classic, but unfortunately nothing quite comes close to the boni-fide classics contained on every single GBV record, and it is quickly superseded by the other two new releases.
...continue to Psycho And The Birds.
All That Is Holy
Although it is the most lo-fi and rough edged of three new albums from GBV's Robert Pollard, All That Is Holy has some of the most promising moments. Recorded with long time collaborator Todd Tobias, the album was apparently done as home recordings by Pollard - who then sent on the demos to Tobias 'to dress them up'. That 'dressing up' is not particularly reflected in the sound, and in the age of the home computer there seems less and less need for the 8-track sound Pollard has long been enchanted by. The playing is distinctly amateur - sounding like a far from finished demo - but the songs are often inspiring and never dull.
The Killers is a unfinished rocker, which still sets the pace for the upbeat album. The 2 minute Father Is Good is a rough diamond capable of sitting on any great Guided By Voices album. The middle of the album is where it is at it's strongest, with a briefly coherent sequence of Alabama Sunrise, Jesus The Clockwork and Disturbed.... but ultimately things tail off again, and the album doesn't finish that strongly.
The demo sound is hard work, and occasionally grueling. Stick with it however, as the album contains some great material.
...continue to Keene Brothers.
Blues And Boogie Shoes
Billed as 'pure pop magic', The Keene Brothers is a collaboration between GBV's Robert Pollard and one-time Matador alumni Tommy Keene. Although not exactly 'pop,' Blues And Boogie Shoes is far and away the most solid and cohesive of these three new records.
Death Of The Party and Island Of Lost Lucys are classic mid-90's-style Guided By Voices. The album has far fewer of the throw-away tracks of the other two new albums, and Keene's polished guitar work adds a layer of sonic quality and sophistication to Pollard's often rough-and-ready recording style - particularly on instrumental tracks like The Camouflaged Friend.
THe album occasionally treads the line a bit to close to FM radio A.O.R., but Pollard's eclectic lyrics always pull things back from soft-rock meltdown.
This Time Do You Feel It? is a masterpiece, borrowing heavily from Pinball Wizard (perhaps Pollard's most overt tribute to heros The Who). The song is followed by A Blue Shadow, another great Pollard song, which brings the album to a worthy close.
So, as usual, 41 new songs from the over-active mind of Robert Pollard has yielded a number of classic tracks, easily distilled down. In the case of these three albums however, those gems are often unpolished rocks.
Bear/Chimp is all over last night's Radiohead gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, with a review and some snaps. Support from Willy Mason. The touts made out like bandits.
I've been enjoying At War With The Mystics, and the three new Fading Captain releases from GBV's Bob Pollard.
It's not just John Frusciante that can kick out multiple albums. The demise of GBV hasn't slowed Robert Pollard, and after recent releases From A Compound Eye and Bubble he's now got a further 3 albums slated for this year. And he's supporting Chimp Jam in the U.S.
King's College, London
First trip to King's College Student Union tonight, and up to the 4th floor (Tokyo style!) for Tutu's bar. Classical music set the scene for tonight's 'Acoustic Evening With Sufjan Stevens', and beer was at student prices. No jelly vodka shots though.
Scottish opening act My Latest Novel start things off, and were sounding good but were unfortunately another case of 'listen but don't look'. A lack of experience and stage presence, mixed with a constant swapping around of who's playing what, plus one too many toy instruments failed to keep this chimp focused. They did sound OK though, and they almost certainly must know those Fence guys.
Sufjan Stevens and his gang took to the stage in semi-freaky Halloween masks, but the itchy feathers soon put an end to that. One album into his quest to record an album for every state, Sufjan Stevens was already distracted with the non-US State based Seven Swans, so it was good to see him sticking to his plan with the release of this year's Come On, Feel The Illinoise!. That album in particular has a tendency to use repeated compositions and melodies, meaning it can sometimes start to sound more like a movie soundtrack than an album proper... and that was reflected in the live show. Serial Killer classic John Wayne Gacy Jr. was a stand out for me and the show in general sounded great (just like the record!), but the lack of energy and too many songs with 80% of the band just standing still were a bit of a mood killer. Give me a shuffling, high kicking Bob Pollard any day.
For once it was a case of 'less cowbell', and 'more guitar, bass, drums and attitude'. Please.
Check out Bob Pollard's all-time top 10 records (circa 1997):
1. Beatles - White Album
2. Wire - 154
3. The Who - Who's Next
4. Alice Cooper - Killer
5. Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick
6. Big Star - Radio City
7. Devo - Are We Not Men, We Are Devo
8. Genesis - Selling England By The Pound
9. REM - Murmur
10.Beatles - Abbey Road
Plus, here's a look at Bob's faves of that year (1997):
1. Upper Crust
2. All the Ghost reissues
3. Mirrors/Electric Eels/Styrenes, Those Were Different Times
4. Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Straight to Video
5. Candy Machine, Tune International
6. Jim O'Rourke, Bad Timing
7. Tar'd & Further'd, Siltbreeze compilation
8. Jamboree tape (demo - no label)
9. Polvo, Shapes
10. (tie) Sleater-Kinney and Lynnfield Pioneers, Emerge