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Full time Medical Anthropologist, part time music critic.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Boston Spaceships - Let It Beard (2011)

OK, let's get up to speed on Boston Spaceships, shall we?  Robert Pollard took his collaboration with Chris Slusarenko (The Takeovers) to a new level with the release of Brown Submarine in 2008, and re-affirmed my fanatical faith in Pollard's ability to meld the 4 P's (Prog, Psych, Pop, and Punk) into brilliantly crafted rock gems.  Why did this project, of all of Pollard's get my unwavering attention?  Why did this project have me demanding my long time GBV co-fans listen to all of the Spaceships' output immediately?  Pollard has a new band, man!  And I think this is key to understanding this project - it's a real collaboration between Slusarenko (bass, guitar) and John Moen (drums) that actually sounds like a band in a recording room.  And I think that's they key.  Chris Slusarenko has tapped into what made all those old Guided by Voices sound so good - analog warmth seemingly recorded in a basement.  Pollard's vocals are equally handled well.  Rather than him sounding like he's in an aluminum cage next to you, his recorded vocals sound like the basement days in Dayton.  Kudos to Slusarenko for capturing this gritty, analog feel to the Boston Spaceships' recorded output.  I haven't been this excited about a Pollard band/project since "Under Bushes, Under Stars".

Now, here we are, a few albums in, and we get "Let It Beard".  As the title suggests, Mr Pollard is in playful mode here, another element of his style that is at times lacking in his solo output.   As a play on the Beatles swan song, as well as the hirsute nature of his collaborators home environs (Portland, OR), "Let It Beard" is coy, playful, fun, and rocking.  Just as it should be.  The titles alone give you a sense of the impish ethos in these grooves, "Juggernaut vs. Monolith", "Chevy Marigold", "I Took on the London Guys", et al.  Very nice to have Pollard seemingly grinning his way through these titles, rather than the seriousness of say, "From A Compound Eye".  Certainly a welcome return to some of the whimsy of his best 90's work.

"Let It Beard"  is a double record, so obviously there is a lot to digest here.  After listening to it for a while, I will not attempt to establish I know this record like I know "Bee Thousand".  But I can say several things at once about the depth and quality of this work.  First, to hear Pollard songs with horns ("Christmas Girl", for one) is an absolute thrill, and again I must thank his collaborator, Chris Slusarenko, who took a bold move for a Pollard recording. It absolutely works.  This, and the female back up vocals on "Chevy Marigold" place Pollard's writing and singing in a context never heard before.  Indie rock?  This is just great rock, period.  Second, there are several songs that are quite traditional in their structure and length, which again demonstrates that Pollard can focus, edit, and craft a perfect 3 1/2 minute song ("The Vicelords") just as well as any other indie rock hero, be it Malkmus, Mascis, White, Casablancas, or whoever you might think is in Pollard's league.  J. Mascis even shows up for the album, lending some sweet guitar lines to "Tourist UFO".  Yeah, if you wanted to hear some jamming it's there.  Of course you get all the pop nuggets you can ask for, too.  Pollard effortlessly references (but never imitates or apes) British Invasion acts (The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles), garage rock Nuggets -inspired rockers, druggy, proggy weirdness, and 70's a.m. pop gold.  Distilling the best of modern music through the lenses of an old school artsy rocker, Pollard gives a history lesson on what is important in popular music: melody, lyrics, punchy drums, great hooks, and choruses that stick in your mind.

With "Let It Beard", Pollard has made his best recording in many, many years.  The earlier Boston Spaceships records, however fantastic and brilliant they were, were a warm up for this superb album.  I would even venture to say that this equals his classic 90's Guided by Voices records.  If this was a new band of unknown 20 somethings, this would make the top 5 list for 2011.  As it is, Mr. Pollard has been with us for many years, and with no Spaceships tour in sight, plenty of press for GBV's victory lap reunion tour, and perhaps even fan fatigue at his numerous releases, this may not be in music lover's consciousnesses this year.  But it deserves to be in every record geek's collection (especially a vinyl version).  If you measure a truly "classic" recording by its ability to stand the test of time, then "Let It Beard", in my estimation will truly be a classic rock recording.  There appears to be a lot of durability and depth to this new venture by Boston Spaceships, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to sift through its may layers and pleasures over the coming years.  Strongly recommended.

Here is a fan video for Christmas Girl that superbly captures the lo-fi analog feel for "Let It Beard".

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