Release Date: Aug 2, 2011
Record label: Guided by Voices
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
To recap, it's 2011, roughly six years since Robert Pollard decided to retire Guided by Voices and launch a proper solo career, and Pollard's work under his own name has been prolific but for the most part disappointing, rarely capturing the heady joys of his work with GBV and suggesting he can't tell his good tunes from his so-so tunes on his own. However, Pollard has also been collaborating with other musicians on a variety of side projects, and this is where Pollard's game remains sharp --- listen to his recordings with the Keane Brothers, Circus Devils, Lifeguards, and particularly Boston Spaceships, his project with John Moen of the Decemberists and Chris Slusarenko of the Takeovers, and you'll find Pollard is still one of the great pop tunesmiths of indie rock. The message is that Pollard works best when he has worthy partners with him in the studio, and the fifth Boston Spaceships album, Let It Beard, certainly bears this out.
For all his success with Guided by Voices, and his recent solo resurgence, for the hundreds (thousands?) of songs Pollard has recorded and released, there's one thing he's never quite nailed. The booming, huge, cohesive prog-rock record. He's tried his prog leanings with side projects like Lifeguards and the Takeovers and Circus Devils, but the results were always mixed.
As Robert Pollard’s attention shifts, at least partly, back to Guided by Voices (who, post-comeback tour, have two studio LPs due next year), he has brought his trio Boston Spaceships to a close. The chief, but definitely not only vehicle for Pollard’s creative impulses the past few years, Boston Spaceships consisted of Pollard, John Moen, and Chris Slusarenko. Their hallmarks were the use of older castoff Pollard songs and compact, energetic, tuneful pop-rock.
The Strokes’ career-making, scene-defining debut, Is This It?, turns 10 this year. The album has aged respectably, despite (maybe because of) the Strokes’ inability to replicate its success, but in many ways, the indie scene has outgrown it. Electronic music of various kinds, hip-hop, and now R&B are all watched more carefully by scenesters than guitar-driven rock, which now constantly defends itself against the scandalous charge that our dads might like it.
Let it Beard is a bewildering album and a cryptic, koan-like sendoff from three of indie rock’s elder statesmen. Its 26 tracks (count ‘em) read, superficially, like a retrospective of singer Robert Pollard’s pre-and post-Guided By Voices work, combining elements of their famous 4-track haze with more lucid fidelities, a few acoustic numbers, and guest appearances by J Mascis and Colin Newman on this impressive, occasionally brilliant double LP. All things considered, it feels like a fitting swan song for Pollard, Chris Slusarenko (GBV), and John Moen (The Decemberists, Perhapst).
From the beginning, Boston Spaceships have seemed the very sort of band that makes double LPs. Over four albums and a live set, longtime frontman Robert Pollard's most dependable post-GBV group has dealt in obnoxiously catchy, insistent, Meadowlands-ready power-pop caught somewhere between Cheap Trick's Heaven Tonight and the Who's Quadrophenia. Pollard, Decemberists drummer John Moen, and Spaceships sonic mastermind Chris Slusarenko may not play arenas-- in fact, the Spaceships haven't played much of anywhere in years-- but their best tunes have both the hooks and the heft to reach the back-bleachers.
Twenty-six songs? Certainly, a good portion of these would be just filler and noise, right? Wrong. What Let It Beard, the latest album from Boston Spaceships, accomplishes is taking you on a journey that leaves you feeling as if you just had an out-of-body experience. No, there weren’t any drugs used in the writing of this review. With two-thirds of the band having been in Guided by Voices (Robert Pollard, Chris Slusarenko) and the other from The Decemberists (John Moen), Boston Spaceships have some strong songwriting capabilities.
I’d like to preface this review with a disclaimer: I’m a borderline obsessive Bob Pollard fan. I own nearly every song he’s released, even the ridiculous “Suitcase” box sets which contain 100 unreleased songs/outtakes/alternate versions a piece and various other obscure collections which lurk in the bowels of the internet. And he’s a difficult man to keep pace with – he releases something like 6 albums a year.