May 21, 2011

Playlist Week of 5-21-11

Lifeguards + Mars Classroom

* J.S. Bach: “Tonet, ihr Pauken,” BWV 207, etc. (Coll. Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Cantatas, BWV 12, etc. (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe): Brussels 11-03-08 (d.1) (FM 2CDR)
* Ben Webster With Strings: Music For Loving (Verve 2CD)
* Grant Green: The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark (Blue Note 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Philadelphia) 2005 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Prairies (Lucky Kitchen CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: On And Off (Skirl CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Mary Halvorson: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Evan Parker, et al.: Teatro alle Tese, Venice, Italy 9-26-10 (FM CDR)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)†
* Miles Davis: Dark Magus: Live At Carnegie Hall (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* The Crusaders: Free As The Wind (Blue Thumb/ABC LP)
* Stuff: Stuff (Warner Bros. LP)
* Material: One Down (Elektra LP)
* Material: The Third Power (Axiom/Island CD)
* Material: Intonarumori (Axiom/Palm CD)†/‡
* Elvis Presley: That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (RCA 3CD)†/‡
* Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones LP)
* The Who: Who Are You (Polydor/Classic LP)
* The Who: Face Dances (Warner Bros./MoFi LP)
* Grateful Dead: Curtis Hixon Convention Hall, Tampa, FL 12-19-73 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA 8-28-81 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Reprise/Warner Bros. LP)
* Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna (Modern LP)
* Stevie Nicks: The Wild Heart (Modern LP)
* The Eagles: Hotel California (Asylum LP)
* Sting: The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (A&M LP)
* Sting: Bring On The Night (A&M—UK 2LP)
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello, et al.: Out Of Our Idiot (Demon—UK LP)
* Echo & The Bunnymen: Ocean Rain (Sire LP)
* Pavement: Wowee Zowee (Sordid Sentinels) (d.1) (Matador 2CD)
* Robert Pollard & Doug Gillard: Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department (Fading Captain LP)
* Lifeguards: Mist King Urth (Fading Captain LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Boston Spaceships: “Headache Revolution” (Happy Jack Rock Records 7”EP)
* Boston Spaceships: “Camera Found The Ray Gun” (Jackpot 7”EP)
* Boston Spaceships: Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD) †/‡



Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department, the 1999 album by GBV guitarist, Doug Gillard, and Robert Pollard, is truly one of the all-time great records in Pollard’s ginormous discography. A non-stop whirlwind of power-pop gems, many of the songs became staples of GBV’s live sets until the very end, a measure of their superlative quality. Then, in 2003, the duo released Mist King Urth under the fake band name, Lifeguards, but it turned out to be a turgid slab of proggy, tuneless sludge—not a bad thing per se, but it seemed lacking in the playfulness and giddy experimentation of the Circus Devils, Pollard’s other ongoing psych-damage project. Despite another listen this week, which revealed a couple of decent songs buried in the murk, Mist King Urth remains one of my least favorite Pollard records. Hey, no one bats a (bee) thousand.

So, eight years later, when a follow-up album under the Lifeguards moniker was announced, I was nonplussed. It got some good reviews and, as an admitted completest, I knew I had to buy it—but I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Waving At The Astronauts is a astoundingly good record, rivaling Speak Kindly’s status as a bona fide classic. Sure, the prog-rock element remains, but the ideas are more fully developed, inspiring some of Pollard’s best singing in years. Right from the start, “Paradise Is Not So Bad” overflows with big, catchy hooks, chunky riffs and soaring melodies, all capped with an anthemic, singalong chorus. Perfect! And the album goes along like that, with Gillard’s virtuoso multi-instrumentalism and slickly layered production perfectly complimenting Pollard’s clever melodic wordplay. The chugging electro-rock of “Product Head” and the demented hillbilly psychedelia of “Trip The Web” are other standouts but there’s really not a dud track on the album—even the dour side-closers, “You’re Gonna Need a Mountain” and “What Am I?,” are redeemed by richly textured instrumental settings and heartfelt vocal performances. It would be easy to overlook Waving At The Astronauts in the relentless outpouring of releases from the absurdly prolific Pollard, but it’s well worth having a listen. The LP comes with a copy of the CD but, if you’re merely curious, you can download a free MP3 of “Paradise Is Not So Bad” over at Serious Business. Check it out!


Similarly, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Pollard’s latest music-by-mail project, Mars Classroom, a collaboration with Gary Waleik, formerly of the semi-legendary Boston hopefuls, Big Dipper. Of course, that name brings back fond memories of my younger years in old Beantown, rocking out at The Rat in Kenmore Square or Green Street Station out in J.P., where Big Dipper stood out from the rest of the grungy punkers on the scene with their earnest tunefulness and sophisticated song structures. The band released a bunch of solid records on a local indie label only to sign with Epic in 1990—and that was the beginning of the end. After releasing one mediocre, over-produced album, the label unceremoniously canceled the deal and Big Dipper quickly faded into obscurity. In other words: the same old story. But in 2008, Merge Records released a three-CD box set, Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, prompting a resurgence of interest in the band—which just goes to show: sometimes there is a second act. As it turns out, Pollard is a big fan and he sought out Waleik to make this record, titled The New Theory Of Everything. It’s another pleasant surprise.

After opening with a one-two pure-pop punch of “New Theory” and “Man. Wine. Power!” the album proceeds to alternate between up-tempo rock songs and super-creamy ballads, the latter yielding some of the most passionate vocals of Pollard’s career. In fact, songs like “There Never Was a Sea Of Love” and “Lumps” are quite unlike anything else in the guy’s ridiculously vast catalog, with their swooning, romantic keyboards and emotionally direct lyrics. Meanwhile, “Wish You Were Young” closes the record with the sort of bittersweet lament for lost youth only Pollard can put across. Throughout, Waleik’s chiming guitars and low-key production fit Pollard’s voice like a glove and the whole thing coheres into a thoroughly satisfying, thirty-nine minute album. Another unexpected charmer. I hope Mars Clasroom is more than just a one-off—I’d love to hear more from these two. The LP (on red vinyl!) comes with a free download card from GBVDigital and is available at your local record emporium or, if you prefer, directly from Rockathon.


Of course, it just keeps coming and more Pollard product is on the way, with a new solo album, Lord Of The Birdcage, due out next week (a free MP of “In A Circle” is available at Pitchfork). Then, in August, the long-awaited magnum opus from Pollard’s other band, Boston Spaceships, finally hits the streets. A sprawling, twenty-six-song, two-LP set cheekily titled, “Let It Beard,” it will no doubt be worth the wait. After that, who knows? The Circus Devils are overdue for a new album; perhaps we’ll get one in time for Halloween. In any event, I’m sure there are already lots more records in the pipeline. How does he do it? I don’t know—but God bless Bob Pollard!

1 comment:

Sam said...

Ah, the Pollard bus just keeps getting farther and farther away......he's a busy guy!

Here's my lists from last week. One highlight for me was revisiting one of the Braxton House bootlegs, the Orchestra stuff from LA in 1992. Really amazing pieces.

Playlist 2011-05-23:

*Luciano Berio: A Portrait, Part 1 (CDR) disc 3
*Maurizio Pollini: 2009-03-11: Stockhausen - Schoenberg - Schumann - Chopin, Cologne (CDR)
*Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra: The Hearinga Suite
*Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: 'S Make It
*Anthony Braxton: Solo (France) 1971
*Anthony Braxton: Orchestra (Los Angeles) 1992
*Anthony Braxton: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, Comp. 357, 358
*Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion, and Okeh Small Group Sessions (disc 2)
*Charles Mingus: Mingus in Wonderland
*Sun Ra: New Steps
*Sun Ra & His Cosmo Jetset Arkestra: 1979-09-28 Ann Arbor (CDR)
*Sun Ra Omniverse Arkestra: 1980-10-11 Old Waldorf, SF (CDR)
*Fred Astaire: Starring Fred Astaire
*Al Bowlly: Love is the Sweetest Thing
*Al Bowlly: Proud of You
*Dr. Dog: We All Belong
*Chemical Brothers: We Are the Night
*Isley Brothers: It's Our Thing
*Various artists: The Detroit Girl Groups
*Zombies: Zombie Heaven (disc 2)

Reading List 2011-05-23:

*Phillips, Arthur. The Tragedy of Arthur (started)
*Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (transl. Malcolm C. Lyons) Vol. 1 (in progress)
*Ebert, Roger. The Great Movies II (in progress)
*Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seldman. Ulysses Annotated, rev. and expanded ed. (in progress)
*Hernandez, Gilbert. Fear of Comics (in progress)
*Joyce, James. Ulysses (reread/in progress)
*Segar, E.C. The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye Vol. 8 (Dailies 1932-1933) (in progress)
*Sim, Dave. Cerebus, Vol. 1 (in progress)