September 7, 2007
Now Playing: Robert Pollard
Robert Pollard continues to deliver what hardcore fans and record collectors desire most: lots and lots of records. Over the past several months, Pollard has released a somewhat bewildering deluge of CDs, LPs, EPs, compilations, and seven-inch singles on a myriad batch of labels. To cap it all off, not one, but two full-length “official” albums will be released simultaneously on Merge on October 9.
Sure, lots of fun for said hardcore fan (myself included), but what about the music?
I don’t normally go for compilations and “best-of’s,” but Crickets: Best of the Fading Captain Series 1999-2007 (Fading Captain Series #44 CD) is a real delight. Of course, I already have all forty-three previous volumes (many in multiple formats), but Pollard’s exquisite knack for sequencing makes this a surprisingly satisfying album in its own right. The six previously unreleased tracks are merely icing on the cake. And what good cake it is! Let’s be honest, this compilation contains the only good songs from some pretty mediocre albums (e.g. Airport 5). On the other hand, cherry-picking from an otherwise massively rewarding discography only reminds me of how great some of those original albums really are. Crickets also contains some vinyl-only gems that are otherwise a bit inconvenient for causal listening (for example, the power-pop classic, “Sensational Gravity Boy”) This very attractive two-CD package not only makes for a good introduction to Pollard’s non-Guided By Voices material, but amply rewards the hardcore fan’s mandatory purchase. Highly recommended.
Speaking of the late, lamented Guided By Voices, Live From Austin, Texas (New West DVD/CD) offers yet another glimpse of GBV’s final tour in all its terrible beauty. Relatively tame compared to the monumental The Electrifying Conclusion (Plexifilm 026 DVD), it’s still drunken debauch. For fans only.
Silverfish Trivia (Prom Is Coming PIC1 CD/EP) was supposed to be the title of the next big record on Merge, but was quickly re-sequenced and released as an inconspicuous EP back in May. Pollard’s instincts may have been correct in releasing this as an EP, since this is easily one of the strongest records he’s released since the demise of GBV. Bookended with quasi-minimalist string instrumentals, the whole record hangs together nicely as a kind of prog-rock suite (especially on vinyl). Highlights include the lovely “Circle Saw Boy’s Club,” a sweetly-sad evocation of lost youth, the majestic “Touched To Be Sure,” and “Cats Love A Parade,” an epic, multipart exculpation of love and betrayal that stands as one of Pollard’s grandest achievements. More songs would have upset the delicate emotional balance that makes this an excellent example of the short-form EP at its most effective. This one gets my highest recommendation!
The Takeovers: Bad Football (Off Records 993 CD/LP) follows up last year’s Turn To Red (Fading Captain Series #40) Many fans are hailing this as some sort of return to form and, while this is more overtly rock-ish than some of Pollard’s more recent stuff, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. “Pretty Not Bad” has a charmingly punkish swagger and a catchy chorus while “Music For Us” is just down right silly. As for the rest, well, even after several listens, this mostly sounds a bit phoned-in to me. But, hey, I could be wrong. I may listen to it tomorrow and its genius will be strikingly apparent. It’s happened before with Mr. Pollard’s prolific output!
In anticipation of Pollard’s one-two punch on October 9, yet another vanity label, Happy Jack Rock Records, has been (and will be) releasing one seven-inch single per month over the next year, each containing an unreleased song on the B-side. Supposedly, some sort of box or container will be available, along with a possible CD compilation of the B-Sides available upon the series’ completion in July, 2008. If the first three installments are any indication, Pollard’s new albums, Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love, will be a strong follow-up to last year’s From A Compound Eye and Normal Happiness. In the meantime, it’s fun to know I’ll have these little gems arriving in the mailbox every month.
Finally, The Circus Devils: Sgt. Disco has just recently been released on Ipecac (a super-limited edition 2-LP on Rockathon is due to arrive on September 28). The Circus Devils moniker has allowed Pollard the opportunity to indulge his most experimental and prog-influenced proclivities and, at 32 tracks, this is by far the most elaborate Circus Devils record to date. Like previous Circus Devils albums, this one hangs together amazingly well as some kind of obscurantist, art-damaged rock-opera. If you can get in the mood for that kind of thing, this one is definitely a keeper.
At fifty years old, it would appear that Robert Pollard is hitting a new peak of creativity. How encouraging!