Illustration by J.C. Leyendecker from Robert Chambers' Iole, 1905
Robert Pollard's got another new record - his sixth of 2009. Another LP under the name Boston Spaceships, his project with Chris Slusarenko and friends, this release proves that Boston Spaceships is his most consistently great project since retiring the Guided By Voices name. Slightly superior to The Planets Are Blasted (released in February of this year!), Zero to 99 is arguably less consistent but boasts more highlights. The album leans heavily toward the power-pop side of Bob's multi-pronged approach to rock, which is what I tend to prefer anyway. It benefits from some dalliances in prog and heavy psych, but bringing the pop hooks is what Boston Spaceships does best.
Zero to 99 starts with "Pluto the Skate", one of four straight-up remakes of old demos on the record taken from Pollard's Suitcase box set. It's a noisy psychedelic song-sketch that is barely different from its demo, but it leads into a string of six perfect songs, one of the best sequences of songs found on any of Pollard's albums from this year (or any year, maybe.) "How Wrong You Are" and "Radical Amazement" are great guitar pop that show Pollard's voice is in fine form (a legitimate question considering how destroyed it sounded on some of the songs on his last release, Elephant Jokes.) "Found Obstruction Rock and Rolls" and "Trashed Aircraft Baby" bookend two softer pop songs, the slow-burning "Question Girl All Right" and "Let It Rest a Little While", a song featuring a huge chorus and some nice guest guitar work from REM's Peter Buck.
The second half of the album lets up on the momentum a little and focuses more on variety, with little sketches like "Godless" and "Return to Your Ship" mixing with the proggy "Go Inside" and the insanely catchy minimalist pop of "Mr. Ghost Town". One remake I was looking forward to, "Meddle", is the big letdown of the album, turning the jangle-pop of the demo into a pounding hard-rock riff that just sounds stupid. The closing track of the album does a much better job of updating an much-loved demo - "A Good Circuitry Soldier" started life as an acoustic ballad from the lost Concert for Todd project, and it get a nice reinterpretation here, with some double-tracked vocals and a steadily building arrangement. It doesn't have a single hook - it's one of those Pollard melodies that is all hook, and it sounds great here.
With nothing new left to look forward to from Pollard in 2009 (this doesn't count yet another Suitcase-series rarities box set he's releasing in December), our favorite Ohio songwriter has delivered some great songs and albums this year. He put enough great songs across his 2009 releases to make a two-disc "greatest hits" collection rivaling many bands' career outputs.
"A Good Circuitry Soldier" by Boston Spaceships