US release date: 14 June 2005
UK release date: Available as import
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Schizophrenia Is So Confusing
You know something: Some albums are more reviewable than others.
In other words, different albums provoke varying levels of response via written expression. For example, there are a rare few where there is an instantaneous connection, akin to sex on the first date, and every word seems to flow so easily. And then there’s the mass space known as the middle ground, where most albums reside, where it takes a fair amount of time in order to regurgitate thoughts in critical form. Finally, there are the efforts where it takes an eternity for any musings to form—be it in the shape of a challenging though ultimately rewarding listen, or utter pointless drivel that is nothing short of musical masochism.
Both of Robert Pollard’s current side projects fall into this last category of the tardiness to connect. Interestingly, Moping Swans’ EP from Lightninghead to Coffeepot and Circus Devils’ Five fall respectively on both extremes of that category’s spectrum.
From Lightinghead to Coffeepot is hard to swallow, for the simple reason that it sounds both like nothing and everything at the same time. It is a tourbook of influences, really, melding together in a sum slightly larger than its parts. We hear traces of the Who, Husker Du, prog elements, and even a little GBV in there somewhere. After several listens, however, I am content to merely label it as a nice little eccentric psych-rock-meets-‘80s-indie effort. All six tracks are tasty morsels, though there is nothing groundbreaking, each content with reveling in the flavors of tight virtuosity and a post-rockin’ good time. It is an olla podrida of perfectly acceptable fare, good but not great. Pollard knows the rock rulebook inside and out, and it becomes malleable putty in his hands. It is a slight pity that he doesn’t push himself more in this effort, because given his reputation, good is never enough.
Five, on the other hand, is a steaming piece of shit. The album is the musical equivalent of the Chinese water torture, with that torture spread out over 24 tracks in order to ensure maximum suffering. Circus Devils is Pollard-as-Tom-Waits, and the impersonation is rather poor indeed.
Spazz shenanigans can give birth to cool creatures. However, when there is no depth to accompany the weirdness, the result is one of immense annoyance. It seems like Pollard is channeling the spirit of revolutionaries like Bjork or DNA-period Arto Lindsay, but without their indomitable spirit of difference. In fact, what we find is pastiche for the sake of pastiche, a cacophony of wails, white noise, atonality, and shrieks that serves to aggravate without ceasing. As a result, Five sounds like some pretentious fringe arts performance, those tiny black room ensemble pieces where strange things happen, but nothing of actual worth is said.
So, one album is not like the other. Oh well. I have a hunch that somehow the dichotomy is deliberate, that in his insidious genius, Pollard wants both to be hated and loved to befuddle our feeble minds. Or not, since he doesn’t give a damn in the first place.