Thursday, May 18, 2006

Robert Pollard Invades Your Ears

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, indie rock legend Robert Pollard has been an extremely busy man since closing up shop with Guided by Voices seventeen months ago. He released the 4-song Zoom EP last spring, an EP soundtrack to Steven Soderburgh's 'day and date' digital movie Bubble, a second GBV "suitcase" of 100 unreleased songs, albums under the Moping Swans and Circus Devils monikers, and, earlier this year, his "debut" post-GBV album, From A Compound Eye. Plus, he's already finished another solo album, entitled Normal Happiness, which comes out on Merge Records on October 10th.

Impressive, eh? In that same 17-month span, my creative output amounts to the schlock I've written on this blog and a couple cartoons I drew in court about a judge I didn't like.

Anyway, if it wasn't enough, Bob is releasing three more albums this month as part of his ongoing Fading Captain Series. My pre-orders showed up last week, and I've finally gotten to the point where I'm comfortable putting my thoughts down in words. My impression (now)? Two of them are damn good, and the third has its moments. As an inexplicably popular fat man once said, two out of three ain't bad.

The Keene Brothers, Blues and Boogie Shoes: This was the first disc I listened to, and I haven't stopped listening to it yet. My notes from the first time I listened to the disc read -- "possibly my favorite Bob-related release since Isolation Drills." High praise, indeed. The album's chock full of great, Bob Pollard melodies, and sounds at times like it could be a lost GBV album, except, unlike most GBV albums, I don't think there's a bad song in the bunch. Simply put, Bob and Tommy need to keep working together.

"Death of the Party" [As highly recommended as possible]
"Heaven's Gate"

The Takeovers, Turn to Red: As I said, Bob releases a lot of music, and as a result, there's times you really have to be patient with his albums, spend some time wading through his more experimental and/or less interesting songs, and wait for it to reveal its hidden gems. That's exactly what I had to do with this Takeovers disc over the last week, and finally, this afternoon, I stopped skipping around and let the disc just play, and I finally discovered the gems. I also discovered that most of the album wasn't as unlistenable as I first thought (though "Sweet Jelly" and "Wig Stomper" are close). The aforementioned gems:

"First Spill is Free"
"Be It Not For The Serpentine Rain Dodger" [Highly recommended]

Psycho and the Birds, All That is Holy: This is the one I thought I'd like the least. Maybe it's the silly band name. Maybe it's that I haven't been a fan of Bob's previous Circus Devils collaborations with Todd Tobias. Maybe it's just that it was the last of the three I finally listened to. Regardless, I didn't even listen to the disc until last night, after having it for a week.

And now I'm starting to think that this might be my favorite of the three. Why? The disc comes about as close as anything I've heard from Bob in close to a decade that recaptures all the magic of pre-1997 Guided By Voices. In other words, despite it's low quality production, almost every song has this incredible melody to it, and you find yourself imagining just how great these songs would sound with better production. That's the exact thing I used to think every time I listened to Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. And while I loved the more-produced GBV albums at the end of the band's career, it's nice to recapture what drew me to Bob's music in the first place. And it's nice to know that, at the end of the day, these songs are perfect just as they are.

"Father is Good"
"Jesus the Clockwork" [Highly recommended]


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