Boston Spaceships, “Let It Beard” (Guided by Voices Inc.)
It’s easy to make the argument that Robert Pollard is enjoying a career renaissance.
His seminal indie-rock band, Guided by Voices, is taking its victory lap at music festivals around the country after reuniting its “classic” early ’90s lineup last fall (they headline the Maha Music Festival in Omaha on Aug. 13). His prolific string of solo albums and collaborations has seen a gradual uptick in quality the past couple years.
And now, side project Boston Spaceships — with Decemberists’ drummer Jon Moen and ex-GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko — is a side project no longer.
The hugely ambitious, 26-song “Let It Beard” is the concept album Pollard has been threatening to make for years, and it’s a doozy. Never mind the who’s-who of post-punk and indie-rock guests, including Wire’s Colin Newman, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs and the Gories.
The core of the band is the star here. Boston Spaceships has always been a strong act, but “Let It Beard” is the first time since Guided By Voices’ 2004 swan song (and arguably before that) that all of Pollard’s considerable strengths have come together so well.
His garage- and prog-addled melodies and psychedelic-poetry lyrics are particularly honed on songs like “The Vicelords” and the darkly majestic “I Took on the London Guys.” His vocal turns on “Tourist UFO” and “Tabby and Lucy” are as sweet and affecting as the best of GBV’s work. And his sense of dynamics seems to have rebounded from endless, aimless albums with go-to producer Todd Tobias.
But it would mean little without Moen’s snappy, propulsive drumming and Slusarenko’s textured, instantly ingratiating instrumental work, which keeps things loose but insistent throughout. True, the cover art is more than a little disappointing coming from a front man known for his brilliant collages. But “Let It Beard” is a massive statement from the inexhaustible mind of Pollard, indie-rock’s mad musical scientist, and a testament to the chemistry and talent of his rock-ready bandmates. –John Wenzel
Richard Buckner, “Our Blood” (Merge)
Richard Buckner has a polarizing voice. But while his gristled vocals are an acquired taste, his songs are universally likable. Sure, he’s a cult hero with an underground following that adores his ’90s output, but after a very rough couple of years, Buckner is back with the brawny, yet modest, “Our Blood,” out today.
Just how rough have the last few years been on Buckner? Legendarily bad, it seems, with a busted film score, a broken tape machine, a stolen laptop and a random run-in with Johnny Law that was quickly resolved.
But Buckner is now back and in fine form. On tracks like “Escape,” he’s as meditative as usual, capturing poetic pictures via his jagged, uneven singing. “Confession” is a straightforward, driving song that gives Buckner plenty of room to weave a story that resides somewhere between the worlds of country, folk and rock.
It’s a treat to have Buckner back, especially since we hadn’t heard much from him since 2006’s “Meadow.” Fans of Gram Parsons, Kris Kristofferson or Joseph Arthur might very well find their next favorite artist in “Our Blood.” –Ricardo Baca
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of completely random song titles and band names.