Robert Pollard is the ringleader of the merry indie rock men Guided By Voices, who have been releasing dozens upon dozens of records since the late 80s. Pollard is renowned for making surreal jangle pop classics that are snipped off at the ends, traditionally playing them out at under two minutes at length. As such, he's got a lot of time to write more songs: his average output a year is about ten records, under about five different aliases. Teenage Guitar is yet another solo project of his, and brings forth the bizarre, experimental reaches of his brain for a concept album with thousands of tracks (well, like, twenty-odd). It's arguably his most conceptual record since Guided By Voices' 'Mag Earwhig!', full of lo-fi humming and loose vignettes. Billed by Pollard and PopMatters as being more Pollard than Pollard, this is definitely an album by Robert Pollard.
Tracks:Go Around (The Apartment Dwellers) Spliced At Acme Fair A Guaranteed Ratio Good Mary's House Skin Ride Full Glass Gone All You Fought For Gear OP No Escape Matthew's Ticker and Shaft a. come to breakfast b. the girls arrive c. division of swans d. when death has a nice ring The Instant American Normalized New Light Birthplace of the Electric Starter A Year That Could Have Been Worse
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I once spent a good week trying to seek out the crown jewel of all drunken Robert Pollard recordings, the delightfully titled, presumably spiritually enlightening 'Relaxation of the Asshole'. Released in 2005 -- prime time for Robert Pollard to fall apart on stage and start rolling in manure, considering he'd disbanded the legendary Guided By Voices a year prior, with little more than the understated alt rock record 'Half Smiles of the Decomposed' and a couple of tunes about obscure airplanes to remember them by -- 'Relaxation' collected together all of Pollard's witty, observational, and profane stage banter about pretty much nothing at all. It is billed as his comedy album, kind of like the audio version of his very own HBO special, and I have resigned myself to the fact I will probably never hear the thing.
And yet. I am pretty sure this is it. Teenage Guitar is one of Pollard's newest projects, and it's arguably his funniest, whether he likes it or not. 'More Lies From The Gooseberry Bush' and 'Force Fields At Home' are billed as his experimental records, and let's count the reasons why: because he sings out of time with his rhythm section (which is him) for the most part; because the drumming is winkingly terrible (again... it's him); because he overlays his guitar 'til he's red in the face and until you can't hear him anymore; and because he'll place a piece of meek drone before the happiest, most Beatles-fashioned song in his career since "Long Distance Man". And, of course, because of four-tracks -- I'll admit that these records never quite reach the level of indecipherable dirge as early GbV, but as always, it's hilarious to hear how excited Pollard is to use primitive recording techniques after decades of clean, finely polished records. It sounds like he's jumping out of bed, filled with excitement that he can sound lo-fi for us.
Also... there's a drum machine? There are a lot of weird sound nuggets like that on these records, but they never amount to anything; where Pollard used to be master of witty vignettes and odd noises, named Uncle Bob because he told wicked funny stories and put on all the best voices, he now feels more like Grandpa Bob -- too many anecdotes, not enough draw. His melodies feel few and far between, like he's spent them all trying to keep up with Tobin Sprout for the last six records (he has not succeeded). His voice is raspy, buckling under the pressure and being complemented by drunken homemade excursions, like when he tries his hand at playing the piano in what I assume is his very dimly lit living room.
At least these songs are off-kilter, though. Pollard is so bad at syncing up with the music behind him that it almost feels like self-aware performance art, some impersonator doing Robert Pollard. These records don't come together the way the wackiest tunes on 'Bee Thousand' and 'Alien Lanes' do -- they would make you laugh but also make you sing along. Instead, you just laugh, because oh, that Bob. It's been weird seeing Pollard, the dude who once had a never-ending resource of jangle pop hooks up his sleeve, dry up so completely over the last three or so years. But at least on 'Gooseberry Bush' and 'Force Fields', it's funny to watch, rather than tragic. Bob: take your own advice and relax your asshole.
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