Illustration titled "The Triplets" from W. Heath Robinson's Bill the Minder, 1912
Robert Pollard is on quite a roll lately - not only is he making some big waves with this fall's reunion tour of the classic Guided By Voices lineup, but he is also rolling out very strong albums on three different parallel tracks (while also managing a regular stream of collaborations and side projects). The Circus Devils albums are decent, but their experimental hard rock doesn't appeal to me as much as the progressive work of Pollard's solo albums and the fun-loving power-pop of Boston Spaceships. The difference between the two latter projects is in the motive of the primary collaborator. Todd Tobias, who produces the solo albums (as well as the Circus Devils records), is focused on taking Pollard's current perspective and ideas and translating them into music. The measured and mature (and borderline morose) Moses on a Snail, which came out earlier this summer, is the most recent fruit of this collaboration, and it is admirable that Pollard has a willing helper as he follows his capricious muse.
Former GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko, on the other hand, just wants to have fun. With Boston Spaceships, Pollard is nudged constantly back to his roots in pop/rock music, as well as the various peaks of his own storied career with Guided By Voices. Over the last two years, Slusarenko and Pollard (with the help of drummer John Moen and various guest players) have built a solid standalone discography of four LPs, the most recent being the brand-new Our Cubehouse Still Rocks - the title may be a Joyce quote, but it can be seen as a mission statement for the project as well. Cubehouse delivers the Boston Spaceships goods again, equaling the quality of the previous albums and taking a fun, new British-Invasion bent that is a perfect complement for Pollard's songwriting.
Slusraenko's formula is deceptively simple: two or three old GBV demos fleshed out into arena rock arrangements, a couple songs that hearken back to primetime GBV days, and several songs that put a new twist on Pollard's power-psych stylings or pay tribute to one of his influences. Cubehouse does all of these things well, and the album adds up to a sum of more than its parts through consistent execution and sequencing. Old Pollard melodies show up in the form of Suitcase demos "Fly Away (Terry Sez)", "Unshaven Bird" and the hard-rocking "Freedom Rings", and they blend well with the straightforward guitar pop of tracks like "Track Star" and the album's highlight "Come On Baby Grace" (which has some great guitar leads by GBV veteran Doug Gillard). Slusarenko carefully recreates the sound of GBV classic "Echoes Myron" on "John the Dwarf Wants to Become an Angel", and has some fun with pastiches of Ziggy Stardust ("Airwaves"), early Bee Gees ("Trick of the Telekinetic Newlyweds"), and Cheap Trick (the stunning album closer "In the Bathroom (Up 1/2 the Night").
Our Cubehouse Still Rocks is dominated by that classic British rock sound - the overall vibe is definitely mid-era Who circa Sell Out. Funnily, though, the one song that really grates for me is the full-fledged Who homage of "Bombadine" - it's all the Townsend/Entwhistle moves that bug me compressed into a two-minute burst. But this is the sole stinker in the bunch, and it blends in with the rest of the album's Who-tasticness. It's good to see Chris Slusarenko playing Bob's Peter Pan with his never-grow-old ethos, while Tobias plays inward-looking Jiminy Cricket on Pollard's solo albums. Together they are coaxing Pollard to make albums like Cubehouse, and they contain some of the freshest-sounding music of his whole career.
"Come On Baby Grace" by Boston Spaceships