Remarkably cohesive double album encompasses classic psychedelia, prog rock, and trademark GBV sounds
If Robert Pollard sleeps, he must take catnaps between takes in the studio. This year, Pollard has already released Lord of the Birdcage as a solo album (review here), The New Theory of Everything (with Mars Classroom), Waving at the Astronauts (with LifeGuards), and Space City Kicks (another solo album). Now, he's releasing a double album with Boston Spaceships, Let It Beard.
Prolific as he is, Pollard continues to surprise his audience with interesting, engaging songs. I can't imagine another artist who can release so much material on a regular basis and still seem relevant. Some of the 26 tracks on Let It Beard are short enough to feel like teases, like Juggernaut vs. Monolith, Toppings Take the Cake, or Pincusion. But each of these brief songs (the longest is 1:15) are full songs filled with driving, garage rock energy that compares well to the longer tracks on the album.
The first three tracks give a taste of the rest of the album. Blind 20-20 starts with a Robert Fripp/King Crimson, old school progressive rock sound. The song hits a wall and drops into a loose interlude, then falls into a Robyn Hitchcock tinged psychedelic folk. Juggernaut vs. Monolith, mentioned above, covers the lo-fi, punky garage rock angle for the the album. Then Tourist UFO hits the classic Guided By Voices sound.
Let It Beard delivers on these samples with many great songs and a remarkably cohesive sound. Much of the credit for the flow of the album lies with band member Chris Slusarenko, who started the project with 40 of Pollards acoustic demos. He and Pollard settled on the songs to keep and Slusarenko worked them out and effectively managed production for the album. Drummer John Moen rounds out the group and many guests, like Colin Newman, J Mascis, and Mitch Mitchell, added their imprints to the album.
With so many gems, it's hard to pick a few to talk about, but three stood out for me. The title track is a little mini-epic. It starts out like a classic rocker, warm with distorted guitar and a simple vocal repetition that kicks into a a sound like Robyn Hitchcock playing Rolling Stones' covers. It slides into a Bowie style groove for a while. A guitar steps out to make its assertion, which drives the song into a throbbing Who style rocker, with shades of Long Live Rock and Baba O'Riley. It's a wonderful and unselfconscious journey.
I also loved the driving sound of You Just Can't Tell. The verse vocals are like Brian Eno's Third Uncle, with a steady, staccato run of syllables. The tension builds relentlessly as more details are layered into place. The uneasy ending leaves things at loose ends, but fits perfectly into the chiming pop sound of the following track, Chevy Marigold.
Rounding out my favorites is Tabby and Lucy, which wraps up a Mott the Hoople verse with a classic GBV chorus. The result is some of the finest outsider pop ever made. Low level feedback, shimmery tones, and other sonic textures turn the simple pop structure into something more meaningful. In an ideal world, all pop would be this engaging. "Something to know, something to say, something to take my blues away."
The sprawling extent calls for something unusual, but session strength. I once brewed a refreshing ginger cherry beer that would be perfect to accompany Let It Beard.
Check out Pollard's teaser trailer for the album on YouTube.