When Robert Pollard put the seminal Guided by Voices to rest in 2004 his detractors most likely never assumed his recorded output would continue to multiply like a wet Gremlin with each passing year. Six years after the dissolution of the brand upon which he built his intimidating legacy, Pollard remains as restless as ever. After reaching the realization that no record label of any stature would ever be able to handle his terrifyingly prolific output, Pollard launched his own imprint, GBV Inc., in 2008, enabling him to release new material whenever the mood strikes him. Those following the story already know that the mood strikes old Uncle Bobby frequently. With 2010 already deeply mired in another Pollardian deluge, one has to wonder where the unassuming Moses on a Snail will find higher ground. The album, Pollard’s second full-length album in less than six months, is bound to be remembered as this year’s morose middle child.
Anytime Pollard releases an album with less than 20 songs, it causes small stir among his faithful. Moses on a Snail features a modest 12 tracks yet it’s certain to confound listeners upon first approach as it contains few hallmarks of your average Pollard release. There’s no cheeky lo-fi pop, no droning art rock, no anthemic arena rock, and little in the way of memorable choruses. Here, Pollard has set out to create an autumnal classic—a downcast collection of rainy day songs that require repeated listens to fully reveal their charms. It’s an album that demands to be taken out of the context of Pollard’s superhuman release schedule to be properly digested.
From the sleepy, ELO at half-tilt welcome of “A Weekly Crow”, it’s immediately evident that Pollard was in a reflective mood the day he woke up and cranked out this entire album. He can’t seem to shake off his gloominess and as a result the first half of the album initially feels like one long slog. Pollard is working with songs of the similar length and tempo, which means there’s no schizoid, minute long interjections to separate the lumbering “You Lie Like a Dog”, from the plodding “Ice Cold War”. There are few songs that utilize the classic verse-chorus-verse song structure so it’s easy to miss it when Pollard gets the knack. As expected, there are bursts of goose bump-inducing, hook splattering pop sprinkled in between grey moments like the bleak “How I’ve been in Trouble”. Only someone with a masterful hand like Pollard can extract pure sugar cane out of a few simple notes as he does on “Each is Good in His Own House”. Pollard seems so impressed with himself for hitting the sweet spot that he spends the last moments of the song singing the melody over and over again to wonderful effect. The triumphant “Arrows and Balloons” follows two bright and shiny major chords way up and away into the rock ‘n’ roll heavens.
Pollard finally steps out to recess during the album’s back half, allowing his playful side to return on the stuttering, New Wave-y “It’s News”, and the bouncy, nonsensical “Big Time Wrestling”, the latter of which includes an extremely rare Pollard scat solo. The touchingly surreal “Teardrop Paintballs”, makes one wish the album wasn’t so short on simpler treasures. Moses was produced by Pollard’s long-time cohort Todd Tobias, who gives the album a consistent, mid-fi sheen. Pollard’s voice is way up front where it belongs and the drums, often played intentionally sloppy, help enliven some of the more narcoleptic tracks. For someone for whom musicality almost always takes a back seat to lyrical imagery, it’s a trip to hear Pollard and Tobias finally cut loose on the title track. After Pollard repeats the album’s mantra “You lead the way we’ll follow / very slowly / Moses on a Snail”, the song morphs briefly into a drunken, Zepplin-esque jam, the likes of which this album could have used a dash more of.
Since he’s now his own boss, Pollard is free to follow his muse wherever it may lead. Moses on a Snail is ultimately too minor and inconsistent an album to make any sort an impact with anyone who doesn’t already pray at the church of Pollard. Still, it’s always nice to hear Pollard turn down the volume and speak in a more conversational tone. If Isolation Drills Pollard is your man you’ll find much to admire here. If you favor his everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, then you’d be better served waiting until his next opus drops in what will probably be a scant few months. It’s almost impossible to lose completely with Uncle Bob.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.