Editor's Note: Let me keep my fantasy for a minute. My fantasy is this. I keep thinking that every Robert Pollard review that begins mentioning how he's prolific and makes tons of albums in a short span of time, is probably pissing my man off a little. In my own little world, I like to think of his consistency as a big kind of 'eat a bag' to all critics who feel the need to reference this kind of thing from the gun (which, ironically, I'm sort of doing right now). I have no way to review a 26-track album. That is daunting and nearly impossible. That's why my fantasy remains in tact. Call it what you want, but Bob Pollard has been bowling strikes all along, and this latest monster effort from Boston Spaceships, at least in my own little world, makes me smile. I can picture Pollard kind of walking up to the offices of some big corporate music headquarters and saying, "Oh, you want to talk about prolific? Here's 26 songs for you. And they are good. Every single one of them. Douches."
So ultimately, unpacking Let it Beard is daunting, but an incredible reward lies waiting for your ears. To gear up for this release, I found myself cranking "Big O Gets an Earful" from the last record repeatedly for the better part of two weeks. With all of the recent Guided By Voices reunion touring, and with the most recent announcement that GBV will be no more, Let it Beard serves as an emphatic herald that Boston Spaceships is Pollard's baby. It's his focus, and even with all side projects, Circus Freaks albums, etc., this band is getting his full attention now. The 26 tracks on the album speak this gospel clearly, as yet again, Pollard swings for the fences and knocks the sucker out of the park. Three spins through the record and, for my dollar, there isn't a single weakness. For long time GBV fans, this has to be a good feeling. The Planets Are Blasted was a nearly transcendent record, spitting in the face of much of the pretentious indie noodling that has become so popular. Let it Beard, listeners will find, hurdles the high standard the previous record put out there. One look at the lengthy list of contributors makes this a must-listen. J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Colin Newman (Wire), Dave Rick (Phantom Tollbooth), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Mick Collins (The Dirtbombs), and Mitch Mitchell (GBV) all take a chunk of time on the record. All I needed to hear was the J Mascis/Collins names to be on board heavily. I even scrawled some notes down on a sheet of paper last night as I listened, and found it to be a futile effort. There is simply too much to talk about on an album so big and full of Pollard's writing. So, dear friends, I decided to hit this review a little differently. I fished through my kitchen junk drawer and pulled out a pair of die. I am going to spin these bad boys three times. I will add the two die together and focus on the track that happens to match it; on the final spin, I will either 1) reverse the two numbers, or 2) add them together (the goal here is to at least hit one track from the latter part of the album). I'll review only these three specific tracks, based on what I spin. This is a record with many facets, and gems crawling out of the woodwork. My dice game is going to have to do the trick.
Spin # 1 = 8 (one 5, one 3):
Nice. "Chevy Marigold" is an anthem a third away throught he album, coupling as a heartwarming duet with a soul drenched female vocalist (I have not a clue who this is. If somebody can clue me in, please do). Trebly guitar strums begin the track, and long-time Pollard fans know it's going somewhere a bit more brisk, and when this realization hits, distortion enters the picture. Drums punch in, and all systems are go at the :30 second mark. This is 2:19 of sentimental Pollard. Reminds me of the seminal GBV road-jam quality tunes that stick in the craw. It gets asses shaking quickly and gets out just as fast. "A lovely girl, a tipsy girl at night. That's the woman." This marks exactly what I love about Pollard. Songs are insatiably addictive. Bouncy, rhythmic, with a film of sludge and grandiosity; the variety is present, however; background vocals soar at the tracks close until it abruptly gets shoved out by the next track. It's a burner.
Spin # 2 = 16 (one 6, one 1, flip the numbers to get 16)
Okay, I fudged the rules here, because "Red Bodies" is throwback Pollard at its finest. It begins with alien swirls diving into a monster guitar riff reminiscient of the best GBV shit. Wicked guitar fills and shifts in tone and key occur to beautiful effect. The track retains a spacey vibe underneath all of the crushing percussion, and as per usual, Pollard simply knows how to dive in and create hooks, even if he's putting up a hugely raucous wall of sound. Strings based guitar effects pop in and change back to a ripping riff, an upright bass chimes in until its close. One thing is pounded home with this track, and that is that "Red Bodies" could be six minutes longer, and I'd be happy as hell. Secondly, as I've alluded to in discussions with Citizen Brian, is that the most startling thing about the Pollard catalog is that, even though there are 4000 tunes, not one of them is a three-chord dittie slapped onto vinyl. This Boston Spaceships stuff, along with all of the Pollard catalog, is comprised of rock jams with intelligence. "Red Bodies" points to not only Pollard's genius, but also the backing arrangements and musicians he has on board in the studio. Big ups to those guys; they're getting paychecks from the hardest working musician in the business.
Spin #3 = 24 (one 2, one 4)
I could probably mention "Pincushion" or "Tabby and Lucy," or "Make a Record for Lo-Life" as tracks with plenty to write about, but I'll stick with the rules here. Actually, "No Steamboats" is a badass track at the tail end of the album. A consistently plucked guitar string rings through the arpeggios throughout the track. It's sullen, harmonious, and gorgeous. Bob is serious and introspective here, hitting a home run with rising intensity and huge vocals; this is the addictive ballad of the album. Twice through this track, and you'll have it in your hip pocket for a long, long time.
These are the three tunes the die sent me to. Rules are rules. Honestly, Let it Beard is absolutely one of the most ambitious, thoughtfully crafted, and pulsing albums I've heard this year. The fantasy I discussed up above is 100 percent the truth. There isn't a bad song on here, and, as is the standard, Pollard rips through each track with the swagger and chops of the seminal musician he is. Yeah. You need this on your shelves.