February 14, 2009

Robert Pollard: The Crawling Distance

Robert Pollard: The Crawling Distance (GBV, Inc. 4) (LP/CD) (2009)

Robert Pollard gets criticized for making “too many records” and, indeed, it is difficult (and expensive!) to keep up with every single release by all the various bands, solo projects, and pseudonyms. By my count, he averages 6-9 records (albums, EPs, singles, and sometimes big box sets) per year, every year and even the hippest indie-record store (e.g. Grimey’s) will not stock everything, leaving direct mail order from Rockathon the only realistic option. So, for the casual listener, the sheer volume of releases (not to mention the wide range of sound quality and focus) has to be repellently intimidating. I mean, who is this guy to think that every scrap of tape is worthy of release?

The truth is that Pollard’s genius really is so absurdly profligate that even the most tossed off, drunken boombox recording almost always contains some fleeting glimpse of potential pop perfection: a turn of phrase, a monster riff or tasty chord sequence, a quirky but catchy form, or a brilliant vocal performance. And for the hardcore fan, this prodigious, unrestrained output allows intimate access to Pollard’s creative process. Over time, one gets the sense that no song is finished; no matter how perfect (or very imperfect) it might sound, it is in ever always in the process of becoming. This is evident in Pollard’s current practice of going back to old songs that previously appeared in embryonic form on obscure singles or the catch-all Suitcase box sets. On The Crawling Distance, Pollard revisits “It’s Easy” (from 1984)(!) and turns what was once a mere forty-four second sketch into one of his most fully realized and ravishingly beautiful ballads ever. Truly, this song alone is worth the price of the album.

Nevertheless, at first listen, The Crawling Distance didn’t strike me as imminently likeable as last year’s Off to Business. There’s a proggy weirdness to some songs (“Cave Zone” “By Silence Destroyed” “On Shortwave”) that would have fit right in on the last couple Circus Devils albums. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it was only after a few spins that I noticed that even these songs contain bits of the hooky, angelic pop that is quintessential Bob. What sounds immediately off-putting grows into a catchy earworm. Elsewhere, it’s all creamy ballads: like the aforementioned “It’s Easy,” “No Island,” and “Imaginary Queen Anne” rank among Pollard’s most gorgeous, heartfelt songs. “Red Cross Vegas Night” alternates between soft and sad and loud and anthemic to powerful effect. And, of course, the single, “The Butler Stands for All of Us” is classic mature Pollard: sophisticated, melodic pop rock with allusive, yet emotionally resonant lyrics. Given time and attention, The Crawling Distance reveals itself to be another complex but richly rewarding album from the Pollard-Tobias team and is highly recommended for even the merely curious.


Next up: Boston Spaceships: The Planets Are Blasted (GBV, Inc. 5) due February 27.
Free and legal MP3s of some of Pollard’s recent songs are available here.


Molly said...

OK - oh wise musical brother of mine --- if I wanted to have some soft jazz piano playing in the background while I am reading all my hundreds of newly purchased novels --- who would you recommend?

Rodger Coleman said...

Molly --
Well, the first name that comes to mind is Bill Evans. But I'd have to think about this. How about I send you a CD?

Sam said...

Rodger, please share the lineup of the CD you send! I think Bill Evans is an excellent choice off the top of your head, the live trio stuff especially. Maybe some Herbie Nichols? It'll be interesting to haer what you come up with!