April 27, 2008

Keeping Up With Robert Pollard

Robert Pollard: Superman Was a Rocker (Happy Jack Rock Records CD/LP) So, Bob goes rummaging through the infamous Suitcase and finds some old cassette tapes containing instrumental tracks and goofy snippets of audio verité recorded over the past 20 years with various versions of Guided By Voices. Then he takes these tapes over to Todd Tobias’s studio and overdubs vocals and, voila, a new EP - 13 songs in 30 minutes. Billed as “the most FUN Bob album in a year.” Well, initially I didn’t think it was very fun at all; in fact, I thought it was merely more tossed-off junk on par with such abominations as Acid Ranch or The Howling Wolf Orchestra. Don’t get me wrong, being a devout and penitent fan, I actually enjoy Pollard’s abominations and tossed-off junk for what it is. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. But, as is usually the case with any new Pollard record, after several listens I began to appreciate Superman’s eccentricities. Nevertheless, “Love Your Spaceman” is the closest thing to a straightforward pop song on here and, while some of the “skits” are hilarious, I can only recommend this to completists like myself. LP is limited to 500 copies.

Psycho & the Birds: We’ve Moved (Happy Jack Rock Records CD/LP) Psycho & the Birds is a relatively recent conception wherein Pollard records songs to a primitive boombox (which is his usual songwriting modus operandi) and sends the tapes to Tobias for instrumentation. The previous All That Is Holy LP (FCS #41) and Check Your Zoo EP (FCS #43) contain some wonderful songs, but they sound a bit too much like the demos they ultimately are; several of those songs wound up, in more fully fleshed out form and with sometimes different titles, on later “official” records. On We’ve Moved, Tobias takes it up a notch and grandly orchestrates these little gems in inventive and compelling ways. For example, on “Corona Grande”, Tobias alternates what sounds like samples of Pollard and Elvis Presley combined with a nifty riff that manages to make this nothing of a song into a charming bit of pure pop. The whole record is full of moments like this and, if these be demos, then all the better – bring on the final product! This may not be for everyone, but if you’re a fan, it is essential. LP is limited to 500 copies.

The Takeovers: “Little Green Onion Man” EP (Off Records/HJRR CD/7”) The long-delayed “Little Green Onion Man” EP was worth the wait for those of us who appreciate the Takeovers’ brand of psychedelic cock-rock and this EP makes a fine companion to last year’s Bad Football (Off). The brainchild of former GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko, the music is, as you would expect, bass-centric and groove-oriented which makes for a change of pace from Tobias’s sometimes monolithic constructions. It’s sorta nice to hear Pollard in this setting, where rocking out is of primary importance and pretensions of any sort are held in check. As a result, of course, nothing really new is happening here and, to me, Pollard sounds slightly bored with it all. Still, this is an enjoyable romp if you don’t think too much about it. Both the CD and the 7” are limited to 950 copies, of which the first 500 7-inchers are hand-numbered - perfect for record-collector geeks and only available from the website.

Robert Pollard: “Weatherman and Skin Goddess” EP (GBV, Inc. 1-1 CD/12”) Here’s a preview of Pollard’s next “official” album on yet another new label, Robert Pollard Is Off To Business, due on June 22nd. On “Weatherman”, Pollard and Tobias explore the sort of multi-part epic art-rock they began in earnest with on the wonderful Silverfish Trivia EP (Prom Is Coming). Pollard sounds particularly engaged and his singing is superb. If this song is any indication, Off To Business will be a real winner. Two equally excellent B-sides (“Kiss the Quiet Man” and “Chat Factory Zero”) make this an especially delightful EP and definitely leaves me wanting more. The CD is limited to 1000 copies and the 12” is limited to 500 copies. Another Off to Business preview, “Gratification to Concrete”, is available as an MP3 here.


The year-long Happy Jack Rock Records singles series is finally winding down with the final volume due at the end of next month. As with previous volumes, the B-sides range from the sublime (“Speak Again”, which appeared in instrumental form as “Speak In many Colors” on Silverfish Trivia) to the ridiculous (“Battle For Mankind 2”) with some minor gems (“Street Velocity”) and random oddities (“Revolver Tricks” sung by Stanley West – who?) in between. It’s been fun getting these in the mail every month or so, but I have to say the pressings have left a lot to be desired: almost all of them are off-center to one degree or another making for sometimes queasy listening. The promised CD of the B-sides will definitely be worth having if only for the stable intonation.


Keeping up with Robert Pollard is neither easy nor inexpensive, but it’s a lot of fun for the fan. God bless him. The release of Robert Pollard Is Off To Business in June will coincide with the publication of Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard (Fantagraphics), a collection of Pollard’s collages and album cover art based upon his NYC gallery debut last year. After that, things appear to be tapering off until a new Circus Devils album, Ataxia, due in the fall. I can’t wait.


April 19, 2008

Happy Record Store Day!

I made my way over to Grimey’s around 11:30 this morning since I didn’t want to miss out on the 20% off sale. The place was packed! The queue for the cash register stretched all the way across the store and took almost thirty minutes to get through. Nevertheless, everyone was happy to be there. The vast majority of folks, young and old, seemed to be purchasing new vinyl records which I thought was interesting. Myself, I took advantage of the sale to pick up the Sly & the Family Stone reissues on Sundazed. Gorgeous packaging and nicely pressed, these LPs look and sound fantastic.

Rain put a little bit of a damper on the outdoor festivities while I was there. I would have enjoyed hunting through the $1 bins, but I figured I had already done enough damage as it was. I did have a Yazoo Pale Ale before heading out (yum!).


UPDATE: This article from yesterday's New York Times is worth reading.

UPDATE 2: Finished the day watching High Fidelity, possibly the ultimate record store movie. The book, by Nick Hornby, is even better.


April 16, 2008

April 19th is Record Store Day!

Record Store Day is an attempt to get independent record stores together to promote themselves as an alternative to big-box chain stores. My personal favorite local indie record store, Grimey’s, will be having a big party all day with DJs, bands, beer, and food – and lots and lots of records on sale. Sounds like a good time to me!

I’ve always loved record stores and they’re the only places really that I’ve ever become a “regular” – you know, go in at least weekly, the staff know me, etc. While I still miss Tower for its breadth and depth (particularly with jazz and classical music), it was never as much fun as going to Grimey’s. Unlike a lot of record stores, with their aloof disdain for the unhip customer, the folks at Grimey’s are super-friendly and, more importantly, helpful to all comers. They are always totally psyched to help you find the music that you get off on. Righteous!

Sure, I order a lot of stuff online when I can’t find it elsewhere, but, if I can, I try to buy my records at Grimey’s simply because I just love hanging out in record stores. If you find yourself out and about on Saturday, swing by your local indie record store and buy something (there will be bargains!) to show your support for Record Store Day!


April 13, 2008

Now Playing: Spring Heel Jack

Spring Heel Jack: Songs & Themes (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2008)

Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, flute
John Coxon: guitars, bass, samples, violin, glockenspiel
Ashley Wales: samples
John Tchicai: saxophones, bass clarinet
John Edwards: bass
Tony Marsh: drums
Orphy Robinson: vibraphone
J. Spaceman: guitar (tr. 9 & 12)
Mark Sanders: drums (tr. 7)
Rupert Clervaux: drums (tr. 8)

It may appear that today’s Spring Heel Jack has little to do with their roots in the UK jungle/drum’n’bass scene of the 1990s, but their relationship to so-called “jazz” was always at least implicit. There are moments on 68 Million Shades (Island, 1996) and Busy Curious Thirsty (Island, 1997) where the mechanized beats subside and a pregnant space is opened up in the music that might be filled with, say, a breathy saxophone. Nowadays, the beats have been dispensed with altogether and the music is made up entirely of those open spaces.

Admittedly, Songs and Themes is not the bracing amalgam of cool electronics and free-jazz skronk found on the brilliant Masses (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2001) or Amassed (Thirsty Ear/Blue Series, 2002), but this may be their most listenable record yet. Behind this hideously drab cover lies music of rare beauty.

Sure, it’s all atmosphere and much of it sounds a little bit like what ECM was doing in 1970s (minus the cavernous reverb), but that’s OK with me. I have always believed "fusion" was worth pursuing, regardless of its obvious failures. Sometimes, this record is just the right tonic: lush textures, tasteful contributions from all the musicians (notably, the sensitive hornplay of Roy Campbell and John Tchicai and the restrained feedback psychedelia of J. Spaceman), and there’s enough harmonic adventurousness to reward close, repeated listening. What’s not to like?

Even Liz especially enjoys this one and recommendations don’t come any higher than that!


April 6, 2008

King Crimson in Nashville

I love living in Nashville.

I knew King Crimson was going to re-configure and tour the U.S. this summer and I knew, because frontman/guitarist, Adrian Belew, lives in nearby Mt. Juliet, that any rehearsals (and recordings) would likely take place there. It was also likely that KC would likely play some “warmup” shows in Nashville before heading out on tour. What was surprising was how easy it was to get tickets: only $25 – general admission! Wahoo!

The Belcourt Theatre is a tiny, 300-seat movie theatre in Hillsboro Village that has recently taken to hosting live music events and, needless to say, this will be an intensely intimate environment in which to witness the ferocious beauty of King Crimson.

Let’s just hope no one tries to take a photograph; leader/guitarist Robert Fripp is notorious for walking off stage at the first flash. Then again, for only $25, the spectacle would be worth it. [UPDATE: just kidding!!!]