Tuesday, April 11, 2017

THE CLUB IS OPEN... An Introduction

WELCOME to An Earful 'O Wax, the Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard; Song Documentation Database. Here, I attempt to provide a write-up accompanied by a numerical review (for what it's worth) of every song written, performed, or related to one of rock's most prolific songwriters; Robert Pollard.

If you have found yourself on this site, you probably know a bit of the story and history of the Dayton, OH band. If not, welcome! May this be your newest haven for a crash-course in the subject, and hopefully this can aid in your quest for the perfect mix tape.

This idea to delve into this project came to be in early 2012 while talking with a friend about the intricacies of the myriad of Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard LPs, EPs, side-projects, box-sets, 7'' singles, official bootlegs, and compilation tracks. I know as a true GBV fanatic, this conversation happens often. So I decided it was time to make my madness somewhat concrete!

The original sole purpose came about when I decided to try to log a rating to some of the more obscure Pollard related songs in my library for my own reference. How could I forget how good "I Am Decided" was off the top of my head? How was it that the closer, "Blue Shadow," off Pollard's side-project Keene Brothers' LP escaped my memory when thinking about the breadth of the catalog? Official documentation began to accumulate over a few months, and only grew from there. Once the wheels started turning, I found it increasingly difficult to operate the brakes. The determination to review every Robert Pollard related song was in full swing, scribbled in notebooks and sporadically typed out.

What presents itself on this site is just that; my quest to track down, consume (multiple times), and review (if only briefly), every song that came out of Dayton, OH's pop-psych mastermind, Robert Pollard. It's been a rough and bumpy road over many beers, research, and late night phone calls to friends on the matter.

SO, how do you read this and what is it? 
First off, every Robert Pollard related band/solo outing/side-project is divided into headers at the top of the page for quick reference.

The set-up of the free blogger.com space does not provide for ample scroll-down-and-enjoy reading. I encourage all to click on the links above to track down each LP, EP, 7", and compilation to find said song, or to simply browse the nature of each beast.

Also, each LP is accompanied by a brief to somewhat-extended introduction into the release, garnished with facts and opinions. Treat them  as a short review. Treat them as garbage. Do as you will.

What is included?
Any and all Robert Pollard related material is included for mention and review on this site. That is, every Guided by Voices, Pollard solo outing, Pollard solo collaborations, or side-project. Several side-project bands are listed above in the same tab due to restrictions here, not importance, or lack thereof.

There are still plenty of off-shoots of the Pollard/GBV family tree; Tobin Sprout solo material, Doug Gillard solo LPs, Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, fig. 4, Terrifying Experience, etc. While many of those releases are definitely worth tracking down, (especially Tobin Sprout's frequent and brilliant outings) I have not obtained all at this time.

Also, not EVERY single record is listed on this site. Some singles and box sets simply contained songs that had previously been released. I included each record, in which each song made its earliest appearance. If you'd like a complete discography of everything GBV related, check HERE.

In addition, there are a plethora of bootleg releases with alternate titles to track that were eventually released on the Suitcase box-sets. Also, there are seemingly endless unreleased instrumental outtakes, alternate bootleg takes, internet released demos, and unreleased live cover songs that have not been included. In time, they might see the light of day. Such is the case with Pollard's TWO "comedy" LPs of spoken word, Relaxation of the Asshole and Meet the King: Asshole 2. I've got 'em, just don't know where they fit in this puzzle, but maybe one day.

Additionally, as long as I breathe and maintain functional hearing, new releases will continue to be updated in the future. Please check back.

The ratings assigned numerically differs, in context, for each band.

It should go without saying, but a Guided by Voices perfect song rating does not always reflect the same as, say, a great Circus Devils song, decent Acid Ranch, etc. Two different recipes, two different results.

Also, it's a 1 to 5 system. Don't have a stroke that something didn't get 10.

And finally, LET IT BE KNOWN!:
It should go without saying that I am a fan. Not to dive too deep into the sappy end of the pool, Robert Pollard has been an even more enormous influence on me than I can really every say. Who else would do such an arguably stupid thing if not a fan? Nevertheless, what lies ahead may offend, enlighten, educate and shock some as I have given reviews to songs that some hold deep in the ribcage; wedding songs, the break-up tune, the perfect song for a funeral, your favorite drinking singalong melody, etc. So please know that every bad review still comes from a place that still gives even the slightest wink of admiration, and I mean no offense to the fellow listener in the following reviews of everything, and encourage an open discussion about said topics. Such is the way of the world, and shouldn't need mentioning. But it bares repeating when dealing with something as sacred to so many.

May Pollard continue to write, record, release. The army of the shambolic have spoken and, sorry mainstream press, he does NOT need an editor. What we want is what we get, and so forth.  And for the casual, or beginner, may this be both a guide and valuable lesson.  As Pollard has said, he relies on his Four "P's"; pop, punk, psych, and prog (which will be referenced throughout the site), in his song writing. May the best of those styles continue to rain down, for better or worse. One man's "Gold Star For Robot Boy" is another man's "I Can't Freeze Anymore" and vice versa. But hopefully you get the picture.  Read on, enjoy, and detest if you must. But remember, "Life is short, GBV is long."*

Additional thanks to the project goes to the following:  Jeff at Guided by Voices Database (www.gbvdb.com), for his his helpful correspondence and for his stellar website of meticulous fanboy info. Kevin Oliver, for guiding me through a cerebral discussion of Suitcase 2 and its inconsistencies back in the day. Fid, for his enthusiasm, tri-state brotherly support, and providing me with a couple of hard-to-find GBV releases on loan while I was dead broke. Christopher Thomas Brown for talking GBV with me at length and for kind of kick starting this whole idea. And to K. Gogan, my best friend for encouraging me to finish and for helping edit a portion of this mess.

*- gbv

**all photos taken from the fabulous world of google search. If you have a problem with a photo being up here, say the word and I'll take it down. I honestly don't know how to credit you!

***background collage by Robert Pollard, entitled "Brought To You by Real Nice Scientist" 

Monday, April 10, 2017

August By Cake (2017)

August By Cake
(Guided by Voices Inc., 2017)

Since its official announcement in January 2017, a lot has been written about Guided By Voices' true second reunion effort, August by Cake, so I'll try to keep it brief (yeah right). Pollard dusted off GBV once again in 2016, releasing Please Be Honest, a glummier affair of fairly strong songs mixed with a few pebble kickers and head scratchers. While he assemebled a band and hit the road soon after, Please Be Honest was the first GBV LP to feature Pollard playing every instrument in its entirety. In a way, it felt devoid in spots of the true GBV spirit; an actual band led out to sea by the Fading Captain.

If Please Be Honest accomplished one truly great feat, it was bringing about the conception of, arguably, GBVs strongest line-up to date. Fan favorite, righthand man, Doug Gillard returns on lead guitar. Additionally, baby-faced bassist Mark Shue, and veteran songsmith/guitarist Boddy Bare fill out the strings, with solid-as-stone Kevin March on drums.A full fleshed line-up, and powerful at that! How 'bout it?

 Such is clearly evident throughout the entirety of the sprawling... massive... August by Cake. 32 songs in 72 joyous minutes. Recorded mostly with Travis Harrison (drummer/engineer of Pollard's ESP OHIO), other tracks were recorded at various locations.  While this is the first double LP under GBV, Pollard has been down the double LP road before with From a Compound Eye (26 songs), Let It Beard (26 songs), and Sgt. Disco (32 songs). What sets this apart from those double LP affairs, is the depth of quality. There's a ton of meat to sink one's teeth into. Like a truly great double LP, August By Cake feels both wholly complete, and a big mess at the same time. Still, it comes out oh so glorious.

A big fuss was also made about this being Pollard's 100th LP of his career. Some have counted 99, others say 101, 109 (or with EPs, and bootlegs, 200 and whatever...). No matter how you figure, 100th looks damn nice in headlines. With that said, the "100th" LP features multiple songwriting contributions from EVERY member of the band, an unprecedented event in the GBV universe; 2 songs each from everyone not named Pollard, 3 from bassist Shue! Maybe it's the all-hands-on-deck unity, maybe it's fate, but August By Cake stands as one of the brightest moments in a discography that's as storied as it is dense.

5° On the Inside- "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN..." announces Uncle Bob, leading off this track, the ringleader of his own pop empire. Similar to the beginning of Nilsson's Pandamonium Shadow Show. A grand statement kicks off this monument of the 4 P's (pop, psych, punk, and prog, of course). Really nailing it with those trumpet leads, this opener is an instant classic, as is usually the case! Full of beefy verses, infectious drum stomps, layered guitar interplay, powerful chorus, and a hook for the ages. Could've been one of the great lost tracks from, say, Do the Collapse? Only 31 more songs to go!

Generox Gray®Fuzzed, warbled guitars open this over a harrowing drum stomp. It's wholly bleak before taking a sly, uplifting turn. Pollard sounds completely sturdy and a tad out of tune at times, but it adds to the mystique. An organ plays the repetitious melody in the distance, and the whole track sort of grows into a strange, wondrous melody you can't shake. Scrub all you want, this one continues to grow. 

When We All Hold Hands At the End of the World- 4 An example of Pollard weaving a ton with so little. A programed drum beat aids in the simplicity as Pollard sings a simple but killer melody that seems wholly familiar. The guitars, sharp as nails, stab away leading into a crunchy melody. Ugggh, nearly perfect. Perhaps it is.

Goodbye Note- 5 Doug Gillard is BACK! The first non-Pollard track of the LP, and what a new classic it is! Upwardly mobile guitar lines, at times joyous, other times relaxed, but wholly triumphant. Infectious like a pop induced flu. Instantly press repeat on your programing device, turn back the needle, do whatever you gotta do to replay this one ASAP. Or continue to push your way deeper into the mysteries that is August By Cake

We Liken the Sun- 3 Warbled guitar plays out on shaky legs as Pollard sings in pleading mode. Fairly brittle track of little note. Pollard sounds out of tune in some spots at the start, but the ending kicks it up slightly for the outro, leaving a joyously melancholy aftertaste. Trim and sweet. 

Fever Pitch - Simple gap track material. It wouldn't be a sprawling GBV record (or any really) without them. Here, under a minute, Pollard sings his sci-fi affected vocal effect while peaking, distorted guitar lines ring about in the back. The melody is humdrum, but in the context, this song fits like a glove. Just not much of note for a single track revisit. 

Absent the Man- Batter up! Next in line of newest GBV members not named Pollard, we find bassist Mark Shue and his first of 3 contributions to the LP. This song is a straight forward, mid-tempo rocker with some angular guitar leads and whinier, strained vocals. It's a fairly strong tune that sounds a little too close to some of the cornball Nick Mitchell stuff off one of the Ricked Wicky LPs, namely "Imminent Fall From Grace."

Packing the Dead Zone- 3 Opens with an unnecessarily Dad friendly voiceover from Pollard's bud, Steve Stefanakos. What follows feels like a lost track from Circus Devil's LP Stomping Ground. It's a slinking, mini rocker full of reverberating vocals, middling vocal effects and stiff-upper-lip attitude with an avant edge. 

What Begins on New Year's Day- 4 Originally released on the Amazon.com digital release, Indie for the New Year, this is the same recording that few people heard or cared about. Feel kind of cheated having it released twice, especially since the original was released as a Pollard solo track. However, this song is a slow grower, but with real sentimental power. Read the fuller review HERE, when it was released in 2015. 

Overloaded- Drummer Kevin March makes his first song appearance in full, vocals and all on this LP. When I say ALL, I mean everything is Kevin March on this track. A slice of Yo La Tengo guitars, and a healthy dose of past GBV conditioning, blended with '90s guilty pleasure rock-pop = perfection! Prior to this, Kevin was responsible for the track "Cool Planet" off the LP of same name. "Overloaded" proves to be a potent, uplifting, and reflective pop hammer that comes down hard and doesn't let up. At over 3 minutes, it's one of the longer ones on the record, but worth the trip time and time again. 

Keep Me Down- In disappointing fashion, this song was previously recorded and released by Boston Spaceships on 2009's The Planets are Blasted. Why release it again? This, Pollard playing everything himself is an unnecessary rehashing of an already released GREAT song. Sluggishly slower than the original, it does posses a certain seat-of-your-pants charm. Regardless, it's a CLASSIC... however, deduct one point due to unnecessary release. Still, fits quite perfectly on ABC

West Coast Company Man- 3 Clean guitar rock starts out mid-tempo and spill into several different sections of feel, rhythm, and styles. Really keeps you on your toes while sounding somewhat cohesive. Similar feel to some Circus Devils' more "normal" tracks, but with  Gillard guitar overdubs.

Warm Up to Religion- 5 Starting in the jangly stratosphere over an aurora borealis, Pollard finally chimes in, slathered in reverb before the song levels out into a slow, choppy indie guitar fest. Slowly it builds, weepy feelings budding within. A slight tear appears from the corner of the eye perhaps? And then... The finale is grand; whooping vocals, flying Gillard solo, and Pollard laying it down like a full house on a scuffed poker table for the goddamn win. 

High Five Hall of Famers- BOBBY BARE JR... Reporting for duty! Guitarist, and long-time recording artist in his own right, makes his GBV song debut. Here, Bare sounds like a surly, younger Pollard with a little more gravel and twang. It's a stripped down, single guitar, bass and drum take on what feels like a simplistic GBV throwback tune. Revisit this in simple moments of triumph. 

Sudden Fiction- 4 Mark Shue is back for his second contribution to the LP. This one has a similar feeling to "Absent the Man," but the drum stomp and escalating guitar assault bring this up a notch. Far from wholly original, this is a solid showing all around. 80's college rocks meets some Fleetwood Mac in the choruses, meets '90s Chapel Hill hooks? A whole lot sprouts forth from so little. 

Hiking Skin- 4 Originally released online as the streaming preview track to ABC. This recalls a lot of Pollard's greatest hits in a few acrobatic vocals moves. The bellowed sections raise the melodic flag along choppy, power pop sections. The guitar work is appropriately grand in this short benchmark track. Would've fit nicely on Motivational Jumpsuit or Cool Planet. Guitar outro leads us out and into...

It's Food- 3 The stabbing outro of "Hiking Skin" opens Side C (the wonkiest side of the LP, for sure). Barebones, Pollard humbled vocals over prickly guitar pulls. It lacks any real punch on its own, but remains solid nonetheless. A few twists, mainly notable for the lofty harmonies in parts. 

Cheap Buttons- 4 The lyrics are downright belly laugh worthy here, but appropriately so. Pounding, choppy stadium rocker on a small scale. The hooks are memorable on a grander scale. The band fires from the hip and hits all targets, moving or otherwise. The breezier interlude, complete with tambourine take the cake. And no, I will not make a pun here. 

Substitute 11- 4 Lyrically, this one plays out as some sort of avant Pollard stage-play, something we've seen during several Circus Devils' LPs. It's a morose trudge with creepy, dusty guitar leads that sink into your brain. The song breaks into a 2nd section as Pollard sets the scene for our fictional "Substitute 11" character. It rides out on a steady, mid-tempo beat. What is going on here? What is the point of all this? I don't care because I love it... Fades into...

Chew the Sand- 2 ... The 3rd track credited to Mark Shue is essentially a noisy, post-punk, apocalyptic instrumental too long for its own good. However, amid the density, such a track is welcome. Taken on its own, it leaves little to write home about. Distant tom pounding on the drums, guitar wankery, gibberish Pollard vocal interludes. Not fit for a mix-tape, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Welcome to ABC you hunk of aural filler. 

Dr. Feelgood Falls Off the Ocean- 5 A rehashing of one of the brighter spots off the jumbled mess that was the Suitcase 2 collection. Originally (and brilliantly) titled, "Something for Susan in the Shadows." Pollard dusted this off and rerecored it complete with drum machine and Gillard guitar overdubs. The melody is simply to die for, the lyrics topnotch. Tap a toe, cry a river, clutch a blanket, paste photos of your life into a scrapbook no one will ever see... whatever your choice, this is your soundtrack. Fantastic. 

The Laughing Closet- 3 A real adult contemporary feel to this tune. It's so mellow, accompanied by faux strings, it might draw a yawn on first few listens. However, it's solid, beautiful Pollard territory that will sink into the cosmos and be recalled fondly when it pops in one's head. Ultra short and somewhat flooring with repeated listens. 

Deflect/Project-5 Doug Gillard knocks it out of the park with his second contribution. Taught guitar work that plays out like audio gold. Slightly progged up in its arrangement, this is a breezy, tight track that lodges itself deeply in the brain. Gillard seems to don a Tobin Sprout-like vocal style (pardon the comparison to past GBV greatness). The solo is out in no mans wizard land. Short and OH SO Sweeeeeet. 

Upon the Circus Bus- 3 Bobby Bare Jr. follows Gillard with his second track of the record. A barebones, lo-fi recording with haunting vocals. Duel speaker, crap-tastic, conversation gibberish saturates the atmosphere, giving it all an unsettlingly feeling. Memorable? Somehow, it is. Sounds like early, lost GBV EP worthy material.

Try It Out (It's Nothing)- Guitar and drum heavy opener to the final side. Similar to a Universal Truths... era GBV. A straight-ahead song on the shorter side, complete with flying harmonies and triumphant trumpeting in the bridge. Pollard and that goddamn golden trumpet of hits, huh? Bleeds into....

Sentimental Wars4 .... So, we arrive at Kevin March's 2nd contribution to the LP (the last of the GBV members not named Pollard on this record). March sounds oddly like a young Pete Townshend here. It ranks up there with sentimental schmalz of "Hold on Hope," while sounding oddly 80s' John Hughes soundtrack worthy in spots. The chorus is unforgettable, period. It's like March stapled a construction paper heart on his sleeve and said "fuck it." Love it or hate it, this one's a keeper. Incredible. 

Circus Day Hold Out- 3 A Pollard oddity begins the descent to the end of the record (as the last 6 are all Pollard fronted). It's glum, grimy. A doom rocker of sorts. Gillard's leads add to the creep factor. A plodding crawl, this one's mainly saved by the gang vocals that close it out. 

Whole Tomatoes-  It wouldn't be a Pollard LP without one terrible title thrown in. A wholly acoustic number that slips fairly far into forgettable areas. However, Uncle Bob keeps the vocals strong, and builds something out of seemingly nothing. The "keyboard" strings hold this above water enough to make you care, and breathe some life into it. Short, sparse, and oddly sweet as a tomato is technically a fruit. 

Amusement Park Is Over- 5 Oh sweet heavenly baby Jesus! These melodies are on point and potent. The lyrics? Incredible. The only slight drawback is when Pollard kicks in on his shambolic drum part (recorded himself), but the song is a patchwork classic hidden at the backend of a LOADED record. Sweet, sad, sentimental, nostalgic? All applicable. 

Golden Doors- 2  Not much of note here. Basically a spoken vocal track with a slight melody over chilly guitar strums. Somewhere, someone is saying this is the best song ever written but not I. A fairly forgettable song tacked on for good measure. 

The Possible Edge- 3 Pollard gives another strong vocal showing over this jangled waltz. Not worthy of turning many heads, but it's prickly and short enough to revisit. The vocals are sweet as a puddle of melted sugar cane on a pile of Peeps. 

Escape to Phoenix- And finally.... We reach track 32. A stomping closer, complete with accompanied claps and a jabbing keys in the verses, this sees the record off in another triumphant moment maker. Seize the day, รก la Pollard style. The Wizard of Northridge created another power house closer? Go figure. Fades out into group vocals reciting the lyrics that end the song "Circus Day Hold Out" Does it all work? You betcha. August By Cake is a WINNER! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Laughs Last (2017)

Laughs Last
(Happy Jack Rock Records, 2017)

To think it has actually happened. The horror is over.... After 16 years, Pollard, along with brothers Todd and Tim Tobias have pulled the plug on the nightmare machine known as Circus Devils. Yes, Laughs Last was announced as the official swan song recordings to cap an impressive collaborative career of studio blasphemy and art damaged experimentation. 

Circus Devils has always been Pollard and the Tobias' brothers playground to cut loose, experimenting with lyrics, instrumentation, recording techniques, and even short films (the DIY, art school project- esque videos are sometimes downright chilling). However, all strange things must come to an end. On Laughs Last, the boys really let all the colors fly: the brazen, the noise damaged, the depression, the hooky, and the epeleptic bouts of schizo-pop-phrenic dysphonia. The record really does offer up all styles of Circus Devils. In some ways, it feels like a stripped down version of Sgt. Disco. Another analysis could also feel like, "ehh, maybe it's just some ideas leftover." At any rate, it's a fairly solid sendoff, mixed with a few new day classics to boot. 

Recorded by Todd Tobias in Dayton, Pollard did the vocals with the help of ex-Ricked Wicky/GBV guitarist Nick Mitchell. The LP was also released the same day as the 30 track "BEST OF" collection Laughs Best (featuring a bonus DVD of Circus Devils videos... not to be missed).  Gone but not forgotten, take your final leap into the murky aural pond of Circus Devils and see what hallucinations you can drown in.  Farewell.

Get Out of My Way When I'm In Town- A wholly familiar, nearly gratingly simple melody through the verses. The choruses go big on this, sounding like it'd fit comfortably as a darker GBV track.  Pollard mostly repeats the title a bunch of times, as he does on many a Circus Devils tune. The rest is held together by a loose mid-tempo drum beat, some dismal guitar hits, and nauseatingly high-pitched ping-ponging effects. Off to the final races with Circus Devils. 

Philosophy Bag- Punctuated guitar lines hold this down amid a wave of blips and swirling amplified electricity in the background. Also, let's not forget about that cowbell now! Downright nightmarish toward the end in its repetition. Music appropriate for a sacrificial ritual, perhaps... but don't take my word for it as I'm a novice in the ritual game.

ZX35 POW- 1 Did the Tobias brothers forget the utilize the other instruments at their disposal? A straight crap guitar track fumbled to some nonsense pattern while Pollard speak-shouts some drivel. Almost slightly interesting in its simplicity, but lyrics like "Circus Devils love you" and "now you're having fun. Circus Devils fun," sucks the soul right out of the air.  

Teenage Rooster- 4 Another nauseatingly repetitious song, one that's to die for based on its guitar chug, heavy hitting drum stomp and fuzz organ. It feels at any minute Mark E. Smith could pop in and declare this a later period The Fall song that got away. The instrumental groove hooks you, as Pollard bellows away in the background. Post-punk for an exorcism. 

Alice Cooper Alarm Clock- 1 Cool title for what it achieves. However, this is strictly a fart and you'll miss it gap track of guitar noise that is seemingly broadcasted from a cheap radio. Oh there's an organ that plays a downer melody in there to. Necessary? Maybe. As a song, you get nada. Bleeds into...

End of the World Ice Cream- Stomping drums open this up, and it practically feels like we're in for some standard minor-chord rock. However, the drawling organ ensures we're into dipping into prog territory as Pollard delivers a strong vocal showing on the verses, but the hook in the chorus is a little "mehhhh." 

Do the Nixon- 5 Alright, you don't have to be a damn Pollard scholar to identify this as the immediate  hit of the LP. Circus Devils like to do this every so often, putting a downright pop-tastic track right in the middle of the chaos. Very likely could be on any Pollard solo album recorded with Tobias. From the guitar jangle, to the upwardly mobile guitar jabs, followed by Pollard's humorous, cleverly referential lyrics and simplistic hook it fires on all cylinders. It all feels so elementary, but goddamn triumphantly rewarding. AND at just under 2 minutes. 

Smoke Machine- After wallowing in damn near hip-shaking material, we dive headfirst right down downer alley. The verses feel comparable to some of the gloomier material off Please Be Honest, however, the chorus really pushes us into a fuzzed out '80s college rocker of sorts. The hooks are dark, yet powerful. Might miss the brilliance the first time around, but this one's a mini epic anthem of genius worth repeated revists.

Time Trapper- Dusty, lonesome acoustic picking over ethereal keys. Pollard sounds fragile, cold even. Like walking peacefully through a bad dream. The whole thing teeters on the edge of depression, while remaining mystical and cryptic. Folk-prog to freeze to death by. 

Crucified By the British Press- 1 oooof. Fuck what I think, but this whole track's phoned in. From the left-over music, to the quality of the recording, to Pollard's corny lyrics and vocal styling. The vocals don't fit with the wimpy Tobias production throughout. And what's this song even about? A real, or maybe fake rock band, getting bad press? Don't know where this song fits in the Pollard cannon, other than maybe Suitcase, but I guess Circus Devils is a good place to dump it? So "normal," it's head scratching. 

Mr. Detail's Explanation- Lo-fi guitar fuzz in one speaker, brittle melodic chords in the other. The song, once it gets going, is straight melodic, layered vocal declarative ear candy. Pollard sounds strong, delivering what feels like a lost track from a '90s GBV EP, say, Sunfish Holy Breakfast

Farm Action- Sounds like an outtake from their previous LP Stomping Grounds. Another normal tune here. Has the feeling of "Girl in Space," off previously mentioned LP. Musically, the whole affair is a straight yawn. Pollard gives a noble showing, but it's all a pretty hum-drum, mildly pretty tune amounting to little payoff any way you slice it.

Into Gear- Schizophrenic piano loops about in the distance while jazzy percussion clangs its way around organ swells. Pollard speak-sings a repetitive tune in a reverb chamber, as if floating in space. A great one to hear in the dark. Beatnik cool meets one man's space odyssey. 

Cockroach Whiskey- Lonesome acoustic plucking, a real pensive tune as if off of the Escape LP. Pollard, appropriately, goes of the rails lyrically with untethered verse plucked from the stratosphere. It's like listening to one of his collages come to life. Mildly unsettling, with a quick assault on the ears kind of finish. Sad, strange, rewarding. 

To Each His Zone (Sunshine Baby Butt)- Alright. This title though? Just a slight wink and a nod to the lyrics "sunshine, baby but" in the chorus. It all feels like fairly adult contemporary. A far cry from Circus Devils' madness, as is most of this B-side. At first, this one plays out downright cheesy, but it's a well formed Pollard tune that needs time to settle in. Not breaking new ground here, but valiant effort nonetheless. This song does not rock.

Aerial Photographs From Alcatraz (Including 'Nightmare Parade')- Oh yeah, here's a Circus Devils tune for ya'. Spoken word Pollard stylings over heavy metal guitar droning and a nervy bongo stampede. The second part of the track slinks in after Pollard announces "Nightmare Parade" and through a mystic, warped mini stretch we sit. Yes, it does indeed feel slightly nightmarish. Thanks fellas, but average fair.

Asteroid*- So here we have it. We've come to the end. And what a perfectly beautiful ending it is. A simple two to three chord organ swelling track as Pollard sings it as if a eulogy, stating "the lights are burning out behind and ahead of me," and "dead cell material dissolving." Of course, this is all in relation to the song's narrator stating they are, in fact an "asteroid*." Ah, whatever the case, a perfect sendoff to a wrap up the daunting, maddening, beautifully eclectic catalog of Circus Devils. Farewell, on your cosmic journey through vomit, melody, dissonance, REM cycles, and space debris. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean (2016)

Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean
(2016, Guided by Voices Inc.)

2016 was a relatively quiet year for Robert Pollard, that is, in terms of released material. The year opened strong with Pollard's solo outing, Of Course You Are, and continued with the return of Guided by Voices in Please Be Honest. So after, only 2 LPs worth of material (both with insipid, un-Pollardian album titles), the record store shelves and internet went dark with Pollard LP news for months. 2014 and 2015 combined saw nearly 30 releases (28 of which found its way onto this blog in separate reviews), while October 2016's Pollard release count sat stagnant at a mere two!

It's not as if Pollard wasn't keeping busy. For the first time in two years, Uncle Bob hit the road with his newly branded Guided by Voices line-up, making festival stops around the country (and across international boarders), making stops on the west coast and the deeper south. So when word got out that not only was Doug Gillard BACK in Guided by Voices following a mid-summer dispute/mutual departure with guitarist, Nick Mitchell, camp Pollard quickly announced the release of the new side project, ESP Ohio.

The announcement couldn't have come at a more convenient time. With the formerly mentioned addition of Gillard to GBV, the faithful couldn't help contain themselves over the possibilities that might lie ahead with Gillard back in the fold. Less than a month into his presence, and already a new LP had been recorded? In reality, ESP Ohio's first outing was put to tape in March of 2016, anchored by new addition, drummer (and engineer), Travis Harrison. On bass, Mark Shue, the newly acquired GBV's bassist makes his first recorded appearance on a Pollard recording as well.

Most importantly, this finds Pollard and Gillard working together again for the first time since 2011's Lifeguards' LP, Waving at the Astronauts. As expected with any Pollard/Gillard release, the prog takes front and center. Gillard, never one to shy away from guitar heroics, adds an overtly sleeker, sometimes underlying sleazier, side to Pollard's instinctual pop chops. With the return-to-form naming of Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean, the record as a whole may arguably be Pollard's personal dream release of the year. Rock, pop, and prog loaded, the LP is a promising first showing from another Pollard vehicle we can all hope ventures forward, in both name and spirit.

Also, two trivial aspects to touch on: Pollard originally was going to release 2013's Circus Devils' LP My Mind Has Seen the White Trick under the name ESP Ohio, but decided against it at the last minute. In contrast, that Todd Tobias/Pollard showing has little to nothing in common with this record. Also, speaking of Circus Devils, Pollard is most certainly the only rock musician (or person), to use the word "Cyclopean" in not one, but two, great songs in his career (check out "Cyclopean Runways" off Capsized!).

A Much Needed Shot in the Arm- The song opens with hopefully mobile guitar jabs from Gillard as Pollard recalls an old melody that's hard to place but wholly familiar. The build-ups to the chorus really open things up until the song tightens a bit into darker territory. Before you know it, we're off and flying free again. The whole shebang stirs up late period GBV, when Gillard and Pollard were out take the world in their TVT Records days. 

The Great One- A somewhat idiotic vocal line opens up over what sounds like a wind-up, monotonously poppy march. Then a "fiddle" effect comes in for a few bars and absolutely crushes. The rest of the verses are a pretty bland mix of idiotic bomping. Fear not, for the song switches gears and carries us out into a first raising redemptive "chorus" that leaves you wanting more.

Tom Tom Small and Wonderful-  A bleaker, stranger trip down a dark hallway, stupid title and all. The echoing "la la la" vocal parts are straight haunting, but the whole song has a subtle vocal hook to it that really sinks its teeth in after repeated listens. Reminiscent of something off Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair. Again, the closing shines and leaves you in need of a revisit. Pollard is using his fadeouts to the height of their powers on this LP. 

Miss Hospital '93- Sounds a bit lifeless both vocally, and musically, at first (reminiscent of some Tobias recorded stuff from Pollard's solo Merge period). The chorus raises the bar, but the hook just seems to miss its mark. Pretty standard fair, garnished with some welcomed and appropriate trumpet fair toward the end. Abruptly ends and unwittingly shifts into....

Bird Man of Cloth- Oh man, what a transition! It's 2016, but it's like listening to Moses on a Snail all over again. The verses are like straight frowns put to tape. The chorus brings some rays of light, before pulling the curtains shut again. Pollard, his unsteady hand on the dial, can't help but keep turning up the prog factor on this as the song progresses. Unsteady, but rather solid.

Intercourse Fashion- Always one to dabble in both bad titles, and attitude laced rockers, this song delivers both. The verses show glimpses of stiff-upper-lip guitar chug rock, followed by some eye-roll worthy lyrics in the choruses. Speaking of said chorus, they are the complete, airy opposite of the verses. Still, the song feels more like 2 ideas interconnected haphazardly without a direct payoff.

You the Earth Man- Another slogging attitude rocker, thanks in part to that "oh that's Doug Gillard playing that, right?" guitar parts. This is the Lifeguards' song that got away on, say Mist King Urth. The verses are straight cornball, including Pollard's vocal delivery. The choruses save it, but the lyrics are straight from the scrap pile. If you can get past the schlock, and Gillards' ridiculous guitar bends, you'll be in for the track of your life. 

Flowers and Magazines- This one has the potential to really burst out at the seams as a true gem, flirting with cutting loose from time to time. However, this closer to Side A is progged as all hell thanks to Mark Shue's heavy melodic bass noodling, and Gillard's '70s guitar leads. Weird, short, catchy, and worthy of repeated listens. 

Royal Cyclopean- 5 Released as one of the two singles off the LP, it is clear why. Everything about this track screams NEW Pollard classic! Yes, it recalls a lot of what made Pollard a household name in our hearts. A slow guitar chug holds this all together, as Pollard gives his melodic declaration before the song opens into anthem territory. Oh yeah, we're also treated to a ridiculously simple and empowering trumpet lead line through the verses. The blink or you'll miss it "chorus" is to die for. Gillard's lead guitar flourishes are top notch. To be loved for ages. 

Weakened By a Logical Mind-  Light opener following the opening blazer to side B. Pollard's vocals mirror the guitar stop start rhythm, but it's all works quite handsomely. The chorus is catchy as a bag of fish hooks in an overcrowded pond full of starved fish. Gillard's guitar leads, although subtle, are a highlight in this short outing.

Girls' House- 4 Feels slightly off-kilter but unfolds into rather pop standard fair. Gets catchier with further revisits. The only bruise on the whole thing is Pollard's baritone "in a girls' house" vocal interjections toward the end. Great, short instrumental section sees us out.

This Violent Side- Between the guitar stabs, the drum machine sounding beat, and the high end bass melody line, this feels more like Interpol goes pop than Pollard. The song breaks off into bleaker territory, before returning to its sweet, but thin, form. Yes, short and oh-so-sweet. 

The Ticket Who Rallied- Guitar rock, set-on-destructionm opens it up complete with nicely placed cowbell hits. How 'bout that? Ever shifting gears between prog-stadium sections and punchier punk territory, the song pushes forward. Each shift in mood is another short burst of excitement, even when you know it's coming. Pollard drops plenty of melodic interjections throughout, especially mid-section. Another brief Side B inclusion that cohesively holds the whole side together.

Sleeping Through the Noise- 3 Overall cold atmosphere, complete with Circus Devils' ambiance in the background. Pollard languidly gives a solid vocal showing more akin to melodic spoken word over this swamp of mood and short bursts of caffeinated aggression. Sounds like a lost Lifegaurds' track. Far from memorable in the scheme of things, but a quality mood piece tacked in for good measure.

Lithuanian Bombshells- The second of two singles released off the LP. Like "Royal Cyclopean," it's easy to see why. Is that vintage crowd friendly melodies I hear opening up the song? Better believe it. Could this be the great Ricked Wicky song that got away? For good measure, the song shifts gears following one of the greatest pop-oriented verses Pollard's written in a while. One of those rare times the verse outshines the chorus. But damn, do we need that downward shift in the chorus to make us appreciate the some of the finer points in life. 

Grand Beach Finale- 5 Great title! And a GREAT closing track. With a million and one chances to close his records on a high note, Pollard's missed the opportunity more times than not over the years. Here, at nearly 5 minutes, you've got to let it all play out. Wholly unimpressive at first, we slowly drown in sparse guitar work mixed with stomping drums as Pollard sings on assuredly. A slow burner that keeps it mid-tempo throughout, but let it works its mysterious ways on 'ya. The subtle harmonizing, backed with guitar pulls, leads into the "check them out.." parts. Play on and revel in one forceful track full of understatements and patience. 

Lithuanian Bombshells 7" (2016)

Lithuanian Bombshells 7" 
(2016, Guided by Voices Inc.)

One of two 7'' singles released a month before ESP Ohio's debut LP, Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean, each single features an LP track plus 2 unreleased Pollard/ESP Ohio tunes. Limited to 500 copies worldwide, both 7''s sold out in a flash at Rockathon Records.

Side A:
Lithuanian Bombshells- Same track appears on Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean. Check out the link for full LP review. 

Side B:
She Wrote Well (To Tell)- 4 This one's a collaborative effort between Pollard and bassist, Mark Shue. A punk tinged, pop heavy ripper. Catchier than the flu virus in a house of closed windows. The Pollard/Shue vocal harmonies throughout shine. Won't go down in the books as a classic, but deserves all the accolades we must give it. Fantastic.

Woah Nelly- Inevitable, I guess, that one day we'd finally have a Robert Pollard song named "Woah Nelly." Merely an observation. So creepier, dustier basement recording. Uncle Bob sounds rather candid here, as if just thrown from a deep sleep and propped up in front of a boombox recorder. Acoustic plucking, with sure-footed yet wobbly vocals, this is a rather beautiful, oddly addicting track. Sentimental, mysterious, and pulls at the heartstrings. 

Royal Cyclopean 7" (2016)

Royal Cyclopean
(2016, Guided by Voices Inc.)

One of two 7'' singles released a month before ESP Ohio's debut LP, Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopeaneach single features an LP track plus 2 unreleased Pollard/ESP Ohio tunes. Limited to 500 copies worldwide, both 7''s sold out in a flash at Rockathon Records. This one comes on clear red vinyl for all the color drollers out there!!! Whoa Nelly!

Side A;
Royal Cyclopean- Same track that appears on the LP Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean. Check out the link for full LP review. 

Side B:
I'm in Shock (Hit Me With Tonic)- 5  Holy Shit! What's this doing on a b side? Under 1 minute of vintage Pollard vocal melody candy played over tightly wound, melancholy punk pop. Reminscent of a Breeders formula, or a straight rip of "Keep it in Motion," the song is a throwback to all things we love about Pollard's writing. The guitar leads are to die for, the vocals hooks popping up at unexpected moments. Forever stuck in your head, pull the needle back and play it over and over again.

A Mallard Pushing- Written and performed by Doug Gillard. It's nice to see Gillard getting the main vocal showing, as the recent Pollard 7'' b-sides are often happy to let the role players take front and center. A minute and change long, this is sparse R & B lo-fi playing with a rolling acoustic lead to lead us out. The vocals are straight deadpanned, but comforting, and catchy. Sligthtly left of center, but goes down easy. Those leads'll get stuck in your head. Revisit to cure what ails ya.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Please Be Honest (2016)

Please Be Honest
(2016, Guided by Voices Inc.)

When Uncle Bob Pollard releases one of his 20 something-and-counting “SOLO” albums, it’s never actually a solo release. For years, Todd Tobias sat in as his right-hand man, recording and playing all instruments as Pollard added vocals, sometimes the occasional guitar track. Recently, he teamed up with Nick Mitchell on Of Course You Are, following the same ringleader blueprint. The truest “solo” LPs of Pollards’ everwinding career seem to have come under his recent moniker, Teenage Guitar, a “band” in which Pollard performed all instruments himself (sans a couple guest spots). 

It’s with that in mind that we find ourselves at a new crossroads. The GBV moniker is once again dusted off and put back on the record store shelves. A new line-up has been assembled for recently added live shows. All systems GO! Still, there's not one member of the GBV ensemble on this one. It has been written that after Pollard recorded Please Be Honest, he saw it fit to be deemed a Guided by Voices release, an unprecidented turn of events as a one man showing. While it’s another day of celebration in the land of Guided by Voices, it’s initially hard to not view this as the possible Teenage Guitar record that got away.

See, Pollard recorded all instruments himself at Dayton’s Cyberteknics studio, something he did with Teenage Guitar’s More Lies From the Gooseberry Bush , an interesting but mostly underwhelming record. The Guided by Voices moniker has always been the holiest of grails for Pollard’s  writing compulsion, but over the past 30 years, GBV have always included other bandmates, if not significant song writing contributions from a litany of Dayton friends. 

It was announced shortly before the release of this record that GBV had reunited ONCE AGAIN to for a string of live shows, this time without the likes of GBV alumni Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, and the almighty Tobin Sprout. Perhaps the name on the record strictly stands as a promotional tool, or simply as a reason to restart engine. Whatever the case, there’s more Pollard songs in the cosmos. If it should be labeled as Guided by Voices, then so be it, and may it carry on. 

The album itself is a shambolic smattering of cuts, but one that really starts to come together after a couple trips into the record's grooves. A lo-fi feel recorded in a hi-fi setting with Phil Mahaffey, the LP is a slow moving, affecting record stuffed with ideas, most of them converging to further benefit the Pollard legacy. It's the gloomiest GBV record since 2013's English Little League, but surpasses the record in quality.

What's in a name? Who gives a shit in the end? Guided by Voices lives!

My Zodiac Companion- 5 This LP kicks off with a sparse prog tune turned end-of-the-world anthem mid song; a real mini epic pillar to hold up the front end. Cold, moody verses playout with some awkward reverb affect throwing Pollard's vocals about. The chorus, although basic, is a building catch-all of bellowed hooks that are capable of shockwaves. Give it a couple spins to make it one of your top go-to Pollard moments in recent LPs.

Kid on a Ladder- A conflicting track, but great nonetheless. So simple and pure in its approach, but it's territory Pollard has been down before time and time again (particularly brings to mind "Unsinkable Fats Domino" off 2012's Let's Go Eat the Factory), but doesn't make it any less enjoyable or unpalatable. The drum machine backbone track proves both irritating and wholly GBV appropriate at the same time. The hook hangs in your brain long after the needle has been lifted. 

Come On Mr. Christian- 3 Fairly lifeless droning track for a cold, rain soaked day. Still, there's a ray of sun poking through the mist. More of a ballad tune cocooned in small pockets of experimentation. The layered vocal melodies help keep the song on better track. There's a lingering intrigue just below the surface waiting to burst out but never does. 

The Grasshopper Eaters- There's something fascinating in this song's repetitive monotony, but unfortunately it's pretty much repetitive monotony. Also, quite lifeless to boot. The acoustically jangled chorus sections give some hope, but ultimately the song falls flat. It's mostly just Pollard banging away on one guitar chord while clangs and clunks ring out in the background. Too long for anyone's good. 

Glittering Parliaments- Stomping rocker that builds slowly under a kaleidoscopic mesh of guitar tracks and feedback. Feels like some of the strongest "reunion" era stuff already put to tape on, say, Motivational Jumpsuit and the like. The ending, Pollard repeating the hook affirmatively, is a thing of classic GBV beauty. A slow grower, perhaps, that really sticks as a new one for the "ultimate mixtape" collection. 

The Caterpillar Workforce- 3 The opening marching section of the track feels like Pollard trying his hand at nursery rhyme rock. It's both humorous, oddly catchy, and somewhat annoying. A blink-of-an-eye later, the song evolves into several other sections, most of them much more lush, and less idiotically hooky than the opening. A fractured shit-sandwich of ideas but worth the short trip. 

Sad Baby Eyes- 1 Pollard hits a couple of piano keys back and forth and sings in his deeper "Uncle Bob" voice. Short and dull. Not the bottom-of-the-barrel, but little merit other than inflating his songwriting stats. For fans of Clouds on the Polar Landscape.

The Quickers Arrive- Post-punk dirge that really drags the listener through a grim wasteland of the avant, unguarded and wide eyed. Extremely bass heavy, the entire song almost sounding mechanical. Pollard gives an excellent vocal showing, sounding like a sure-piped version of himself from 20 years past. The psych guitar work leading out the song is to die for. 

Hotel X (Big Soap)- 4 The most multi-facited song of the LP. Starts out lofty but soon morphs into a prickly post-punk plodder held down with some thrift-store quality bass tones and ominous Pollard vocal delivery. Halfway through, the tune eventually spills back into greener pastures, building into a psych crescendo as Pollard ascends throne. And for BEST measure, we close it all out with a tacked recording of a high school marching band. At times, brilliant. 

I Think a Telescope- A double tracked acoustic number, plucked and sung in the same style, making the whole tune somewhat grating. Halfway through, Pollard plays the track slightly off giving it a mystical, distant quality. The tracks lacks lyrically, creatively, but still a valid attempt. 

Please Be Honest- The titular track immediately takes one back to the "classic" era of GBV, but with the rust and dust that seems to hover over the entire LP. The lightest "pop" song of the bunch. The eerie quality, shaky delivery, and off-kilter harmonies really pushes this lazy pop tune to the top. Sweet yet grim, like black bubblegum. Also, special nod to Pollard's drumming skills. Super simplistic, but his bashing really adds to the overall patchwork atmosphere. 

Nightmare Jamboree- Stuck on a single guitar chord and short on ideas, the first clunker of Side B. Pollard adds some melodic guitar leads and odd noises in another unsettling affair. Unfortunately, it goes nowhere fast in a leaky boat over pirahana infested waters. 

Unfinished Business- Brain pounding drum machine immediately evokes a poppier, but relentless industrial feeling. Pollard strums bare chords over it and creates a melody so subtle and addicting it almost feels like he's painting a melody that's not even there. Really benefits from the less-is-more aesthetic. Far from a classic, or even overly memorable, but worthy of reexaming. 

Defeatists' Lament- 2 Piano and acoustic guitar sad-sack track that really treads water at the end of this gloom filled long player. The only saving grace; Pollard backing himself up on vocals mid-way through the song, creating a to-die-for psychedelic, Circus Devils-esque moment. Still, comes up far too short. 

Eye Shop Heaven- Another classic line-up type Pollard melody opens this one up. The song teeters on prog/noise for a bit as Pollard delivers his lines while he bashes away in the background. Eventually, the chorus swoops in to save the day. Almost a true winner, with the ability to stick in your head for days, yet scattered about. Like a hoarder's garage sale, it's all over the place and hard to get rid of. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Of Course You Are (2016)

Of Course You Are
(2016, Fire Records)

The first 2016 offering from Robert Pollard finds the man of regurgitated chord progressions and endless melody dropping 12 more nuggets into his bottomless pit of prolificity. 

On Of Course You Are, his 20-something-and-whatever solo LP, Pollard finds himself diverging from his comfort zone in two major areas. For starters, this is the first solo album not released on one of Pollard's own imprints since 2007's LPs Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions via Merge Records. Out on Fire Records (the long-standing British label responsible for unleashing much of GBV reunion catalog in UK), Pollard could have a new internationally known launching pad for a while. More importantly, we find Uncle Bob taking a sabbatical from trusty mainstay collaborator, Todd Tobias. Joining forces with recent collaborative heavyweight, Nick Mitchell of Ricked Wicky fame, the LP breaths some new life into a storied history.

Recording wise, Mitchell hurls in much of the kitchen sink in regards to the album's production. However, rather than clogging the system, the LP works fantastically. One gets the feel that Mitchell significantly aided in fleshing out Pollard's acoustic demos (found scattered throughout the Suitcase 4 box set). Conversely, Pollard sounds on top of his game vocally, perhaps rejuvenated, inspired by a change in the recording process. Whatever the case, Of Course You Are is a solid, praiseworthy record, despite its absence of a true game-changing track. Take the largely smooth 30 minute trip down the ever-winding road of the Robert Pollard solo cannon.

My Daughter Yes She Knows- 4 Originally the preview track spread across the vast internet to warn the masses that BOB was BACK!... This opening track is a mid-tempo moody riff rocker, tethered to a reparative guitar line. The whole affair has a similar feel to the new school Pollard classic "I Killed a Man Who Looks Like You" off Honey Locust Honky Tonk. Plodding, but strong performances all around (even though Mitchell seems to loose a little steam tempo wise toward the end), and strangely hooky. Subtle power in this track.

Long Live Instant Pandemonium- 4 Chug a couple brews, stare hatefully into the abyss and get ready to unleash a high leg kick. A rather lifeless and redundant riff is strengthened by Mitchell's drum tempo shifts, tense bass drop-outs, and an unexpected shift in the bridge. Pollard and Mitchell really do an excellent job funneling some obtuse attitudes into a live-show worthy force of nature.

Come and Listen- We shift gears here. Get out the bow and drag it across some strings. The rock is gone for the next three minutes. Behave! Nick Mitchell, a jack of all instrumental trades(as seen in his often stunning Wicked Ricky b-sides), dropping some lush string work on us, complete with subtle piano hits. Undertaking such a fragile backdrop, Pollard delivers a brilliant vocal performance over the orchestral melancholia. Walking the tightrope, Pollard stays surefooted through the whole affair. A brilliant ballad is added to the cannon, so be it.

Little Pigs- The poppiest track of the bunch up to this point, Nick Mitchell delivers an airy recording of mid-tempo pop; nothing to gloat over, nothing to distain. Pollard's hooks are spot on, but nothing that shakes the discography to its core. The whole affair has a kick-back-and-enjoy-the-fucking-sun-you-sad-piece-of-shit. The "keyboard" horn part allows for a rather epic outro to an otherwise decent track.

Promo Brunette- A stop-start track that seems to drag its feet on the pebbly ground through the song. Pollard repeats the same lines through the duration of most of the track, twisting them into an unforgettable melody (in the most grating way possible). The end melody, along with the chanted vocals, allows for some redemption, but feels like a chore throughout.

I Can Illustrate- 4 An annoyingly catchy pattern between Nick Mitchell's upwardly mobile bass lines and Pollards vocal melodies. However, the song really works, shifting through several different parts, Pollard taking the gold on vocals. Mitchell's instrumentation substantially adds to the track; piano popping in unexpectedly. Let's not forget to mention the solid acoustic guitar backbone and infectiously cool guitar scrapes on the breaks. Oh yeah, some post-punk orchestral accents at the end too!

The Hand That Holds You- A moody, bumpy ride in a jalopy that can never quite seem to get out of a rut. However, there's a lingering sadness through this song, and a sly melody that seems sneak up, comparable to a hunger ravaged dog hanging out at the family dinner table. Not blowing any minds here, but equal parts dank and breezy;  a freshly cracked window in a moldy fruit cellar.

Collision Daycare- Mitchell opens things up with a jangly, but distorted pop guitar line that sounds wholly appropriate in the land of Pollard. Pollard pops in with another strong vocal showing. The main hook, is hooky for sure, if not somewhat annoying in a sophomoric kind of way. However, on the tom stomping chorus, the song opens up and Pollard really let's it fly. Repeated listens have both annoyed me and inspired. Take your pick.

That's the Way You Give It To Me- 3 Sounds very similar to some late period GBV stuff during the early '00s. Super light throughout, Mitchell leaning heavily on an acoustic crutch, ambient keyboard lines inject it with a breezy quality. Pollard's melody is quite lazy, but it all works, even if it's in a cheesy kind of way.

Contemporary Man (He Is Our Age)- Nick Mitchell decides that, in fact, he can be a Circus Devils' mate along with the Tobias brothers (or so it seems)! The track opens with blipping synths, pulsating keys, building into a sea of tom rolls. The first half of the song, bunch of post-rock/punk monotony of little note. Eventually, it opens into a celebratory bridge of sorts, before transforming back into a electronic mood piece that rides out on a doomy high note. A bit of a mess, but wholly inspiring.

Losing It- 4 Mitchell busts out the bag of weird tricks on this one, constructing an sparse acoustic backbone that hovers around vibrato theremin effects and psychotic ambiance. Meanwhile, Pollard sings of taking acid and running naked through the town. Feels more like a Circus Devils piece too, but it's somewhat beautiful in its haunting nature rather than relying on studio fuckery. The only true black eye of this mesmerizing song; Pollard's inclusion of the lyrics "breaking out the Rolaids." Why?

Of Course You Are- An unremarkable mood setting acoustic opening gives way to a potential future sing-a-long crowd pleaser.  The song builds into a first-raising fervor, always feeling on the verge of bleak, but wholly empowering. Meanwhile, Pollard is king in both the lyric and vocal department. A real standout track closes things out with a forceful shove through the door.... Gonna give the whole goddamn thing another listen? The answer's in the title, dummy!!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War (disc 13) (2015)

Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War
(2015, Guided by Voices Inc.)


Every 5 years it seems to happen. The internet begins to swell with rumors among loyalists, from the exhausted diggers, to the mad-eyed melody hounds, to the relative newcomers cutting their teeth deeper and deeper, but never seeming to hit bottom. With the release of 2009's mostly underwhelming Suitcase 3 box-set, camp Pollard declared it to be their last in a series of 100 unreleased song collection. But as the hopeful had speculated, Pollard and the GBV universe does not rest easy. 2015 saw the GBV moniker back in flux with the release of yet another exhaustive 100 unreleased collection of demos, discarded ideas, squeals, full band ripper, and tape scraps. Suitcase 4 is now reality.

To reflect on the past, after the maddening output of Suitcase 2, only worsened with Suitcase 3, it’s somewhat shocking to find the wealth of listenable, historic material found on this 4th Suitcase collection. The amount of ‘80s/early ‘90s on here makes you start to wonder, just how many tapes does Uncle Bob have in that cave of his, and how has he managed to hold back on releasing some of this stuff in the past? Mind you, not only has there been 300 "lost" Suitcase songs released over the past 15 years, but one has to take into account the murky recordings getting official releases of off-the-cuff audio debauchery over the past 30 years under monikers such as Acid Ranch and Hazzard Hotrods. That's not to mention the countless other “demo” and bonus track releases along the way. One begins to deeply ponder, Just where is this stuff coming from? 

As with Suitcase 3, Pollard is not shy about including newer, post GBV tracks in the collection. There’s a healthy handful of fresh sketches recorded with Ricked Wicky’s Nick Mitchell. We get an outtake or two from the now defunct Boston Spaceships outfit, as well as a couple cuts from the reunited (now defunt) GBV classic lineup. There's also a healthy helping of 2015 acoustic demos from Pollard stuck between the cracks here too.

Still, for all the new tracks we’re presented with, there's plenty on display of a young Pollard, delivering some highly digestable shelved lo-fi tracks. The wealth of material here from days of Dayton’s gone by is not only impressive, it’s somewhat disturbing. If there was any doubt before, it is clear Pollard is a certifiable hoarder of his own past, and a calculated leader of his future legacy. Trying to add up the hours spent recording, assembling, storing, and restoring some of this stuff becomes almost sickening once you start diving deeper into the rabbit hole. 

Suitcase 4, while not the springboard for any new fans, offers up a mouthwatering smattering of historical tidbits, reference points, and original demos of fan coveted songs. It’s enough to make any GBV-phile smack one’s head and scream “HOLY HELL“ seemingly at any moment. Buried in the hiss and mire, one can find original noodlings and pre-refined versions of “Postal Blowfish,” “Quality of Armor,” “Wished I Was a Giant,” “Queen of Cans and Jars,” among many other golden era GBV tracks. Take a few uninterrupted shots of Tequila and Ale 8 ginger ale, submerge your paw in a dusty bag of Grippos BBQ chips, and dive into the vaults for a head trip, equal parts self-preservation, masturbatory bullshit, and a swell of ideas from the one-man rock history tutorial machine. 

In addition to Pollard's fake band names on the Suitcase releases (included on the back before each song), there are two that appear on this collection quite a few times, and for good reason.

-Most tracks credited to Jonathon Hyphen Jones are actually demos and sketches to songs from Robert Pollard's 2016 solo LP Of Course You Are. In most instances, I've noted these particular tracks, if not to a far too tediously. 

-Additionally, there are a handful of songs in the collection credited to a 1983 band called The Crowd. It's been reported,a tape recently surfaced of Pollard's pre-GBV band featuring GBV's Mitch Mitchell on bass, Kevin Fennell on drums, and (previously unknown to the discography) Jimmy Davidson on guitar. In all, 7 tracks from these recordings were released on this box-set. Previously, the song "Little Jimmy the Giant ('83 version)" saw release on the GBV Xeno Pariah 7'' single in 2013. According to reports, around 10 songs from The Crowd remain in the vaults.  (Thank you to Dan at Shit Canned for unearthing this knowledge, and for continuing to reconstruct a gross of reportedly abounded GBV albums. Check out his exhaustive aural archeological digs into the Pollard jigsaw. Amazing work. To be checked out).

-Finally, this set contains the first recorded track ever released from Pollard's first band, Anacrusis. A band from 1975-1978, the lone track "Fame and Fortune" remains the only known recorded track from Pollard's earliest vessel. (check track 99 on Disc 16).

Also, worth noting, each box-set comes with an official GBV magnifiying glass to help you read all 100 dust-mite sized song titles squeezed onto the back. Some squinting required. 

Disc 13: 

Lead Walking Shorts- 2  What a perfectly stupid way to to open up yet another adventure down Suitcase lane. A shambolic rock jam that's a fitting opener, even if it goes on for WAY too long.

Walls and Windows- Ultra-brittle early sketch of the GBV classic "Hardcore UFOs" off Bee Thousand. Beautiful melodies sung over prickly guitar jangle. Early morning rays of hope shining through the blinds during the dead of winter. A hidden gem of historical significance rises!

I'm In Shock (Hit Me With Tonic)- Credited to Jonathon Hyphen Jones here. This is the secret indicator that this is a demo of a track from Pollard's 2016 Of Course You Are  LP. Super short with a couple great hooks thrown in for good measure. Promising.

Deaf Dumb and Blind Girl- 3 A possibly improvised jam with Ricked Wicky's Nick Mitchell made specifically for this collection. Annoyingly catchy and repetative. Kind of grows on ya after a while. 

Try Me On For Size- 4 Oh man, another historic gem! Pollard sounds like he's 12 years old, strumming an early version of "Echos Myron" on an acoustic guitar. The lyrics are mostly abysmal diatribes about being in love and shit. Great artifact nonetheless.

No One Looking For You- 1 One evening, Pollard drunkenly turned on his electric razor to shave his head, but wound up falling down the steps instead. At the bottom, he decided to write and record this song, as the razor's hum continued in the background. One can only speculate. 

Murphy Had a Birthday- Where has this shit been hiding? Fully realized, laid back college rock from the early to mid '80s featuring GBV alum Mitch Mitchell and Kevin Fennell. Simple grabbing hooks that sound like the great lost works left off Forever Since Breakfast or Sandbox

Living on Planet Cake- Greg Demos and Bob's brother, Jim, gather in the basement to make some fuzzed out filler. Pollard screams over squealing guitar crunch. 

Great Service- Pollard acoustic strums with a simple melody over it. Another demo from his 2016 Of Course You Are LP. Doesn't show much promise here, but so goes the demo. 

Only Ghost in Town- Todd Tobias handles all the instrumentation. Pollard sounds rather thin in the background making this seem like a lost Psycho and the Birds track. If that's the case, why not include it in the first place? Mid-tempo, meandering pop with a few awkward speedbumps.

8 Bars (Ext. #3)- Originally, I let this one slip by me until a trusty reader, Dennis, pointed out that this is actually the same song as "8 Bars of Meaningless Mathilda" off Teenage Guitar's Force Fields at Home. The song starts with a dreaded answering machine track. Pollard loves to throw these in there from time to time. The song, ultra-brief but incredibly stunning. Hang with this for the payoff, but got to deduct a point for rehashing previously released bullshit. 

No Bird- 1 A possible lost Boston Spaceships' or Carbon Whales' track featuring both John Moen and Chris Slusarenko. Plodding lo-fi bass and drum stomp plays in the background as Pollard adds "new" vocals to some old tapes he found lying around. Unfortunately, Pollard delivers one of the worst performances of his life while constantly repeating the word "bird." Luckily this would only ever released once. Oh SHIT, wait.....  (reappears, for some reason, on Briefcase 4). 

Motor Away [Quiet Demo]- Well hot damn, another demo to leave you watering at the chops. An early version of the Alien Lanes classic. Or maybe this was recorded later for the purpose of releasing such "lost" classics? Excuse my conspiracy theory. I know not what I do. 

The Garden- The liner notes credit this as being written by 3 GBV alum, but then 4 others actually play on the recording? Yes, it's another cut from Pollard's lost tapes of The Crowd. Whatever the formula here, this is another fully realized 80's track. Somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and postpunk penny candy. Killer keyboard line in there for good measure. 

Happy Heartbreaker- Another Of Course You Are demo. A poppy, acoustic strummer that shows some potential among the short bursts and tape hiss. 

Less Active Railroad- Holy crapola! An early verision of "'Wished I Was a Giant'" off Vampire On Titus. Instrumentally, the song is practically the same structure (sans drums). Completely different lyrics and slightly altered melodies too. Pollard sounds like he's in his Freshman dorm. Still a killer song, especially when Uncle Bob let's the vocal melody fly. Plodding lo-fi bass holds it down. 

Porpoise Northeast- Opens with a tacked-on marching intro bit. Abruptly turns into what sounds like one of the great lost Acid Ranch tracks of all-time. No-fi, improvised basements patchwork with acid beat ravings. The main drawback to this mess is the near 4 minute run-time.

Pretty Pinwheel- 1 Lush acoustic strums played while Pollard gives a herniated disc type showing. Oh wait, that's actually close friend of GBV, Randy Campbell, on lead vocals. Somewhere between dream pop and prog, this goes on far too long to be anything of note. 

Back to the Dividing Board- The back of Suitcase 4 points out that the skipping you hear on this track is due to the CD source this song was pulled from. With that said, said skips do provide a hypnotic noise backbone, as Pollard built this into a mini-studio epic. With repeated listens, this could become one of your Pollard prog highlights. 

Mary and the Summer- 3 Just a shade under a minute. Creaky, skipping, dusty pop. Short and cryptic. 

Eloise- 4 Early '80s power pop jam, so saccharine sweet it might rot your molars. Another fully-fleshed out track that sounds like a pre-GBV jam from The Crowd. Catchy, almost for all the wrong reasons, but so short it's undeniably infectious. 

Here To Stay- 3 Pollard credits the track to Abigail French. Well, Pollard is in full on falsetto whisper as he plucks away this snippet of haunting beauty. Shockingly solid. 

She-It- Nick Mitchell sings somwhere in the distance as brothers, Robert and Jim Pollard strum flanged out guitars. Nope. 

Hallway of Shatterproof Glass- Any GBV fan knows these words... And yes, this is an early revision of "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory." A hi-fi, stoner version with completely different lyrics and feel. Raise a lighter and declare it one of the great lost GBV outtakes of all-time.

Govt. Bldg. 15- Some typical Suitcase noise bullshit. Joe Patterson of The Sunflower Logic makes noises as Pollard sounds like he's dying from acid reflux in a mystic far-off land. Kind of into the song title though.