On The Planets are Blasted, Robert Pollard and company concentrate their eccentricities into a more potent dose of quirky rock music that can be as affecting as it is goofy.
"Headache Revolution," the lead single from The Planets Are Blasted is not new, and amateur Guided by Voices historians -- of which there are many -- know that. The song first popped up on a bootleg website that came with the release of Isolation Drills. On the site, a video of Bob Pollard featured him at home sitting on his couch, playing a song he wrote that morning. That song was "Headache Revolution."
But the song's inclusion on this new Boston Spaceships record isn't arbitrary. And it isn't Pollard struggling to fill out an album, because we know he doesn't ever have that problem. Instead, it is a re-imagining of his past, and not even necessarily his past with Guided by Voices. Pollard has clearly used Boston Spaceships to mine a vein of youth still inside him, and the music that has come out has been energetic and sometimes goofy -- but always compelling. Last year's Brown Submarine was silly and catchy and all over the map and excellent; however, on The Planets Are Blasted, released just five months after its predecessor, Pollard and company concentrate their eccentricities into a more potent dose without losing any energy or stylistic range, and then they thicken up the songs even more with light but affecting string arrangements. The album proves itself to be as intricate as it is immediately catchy and much bigger than its 35-minute running time would indicate.
"Headache Revolution" works not only as a time capsule but also as a single representative of the Boston Spaceships' sound. The song has transformed in the eight years since Isolation Drills from an acoustic demo into a towering, albeit brief, piece of pop rock. The nuanced chorus gets bookended by towering rock theatrics, as drummer John Moen plays a bracing, barely in control Keith Moon to Pollard's acrobatic, Daltrey-esque vocals.
In fact, Pollard's love of prog and classic rock appear all over The Planets Are Blasted, but he smartly filters them through his brilliant knack for quick, punchy pop songs. "Big O Gets an Earful" is tumbling, moody and builds to arena-sized keening from Pollard on the bridge. The head-bobbing rock of "Tattoo Mission" lines itself with dark and weighted flourishes of strings. "UFO Love Letters" is a muddy and menacing track, dragged out of its own muck and mire by Pollard's to-the-rafters singing. It comes as a nice shadow to the sunny, orchestrated pop of songs like "Catherine from Mid October."
And Pollard revisits his old sounds on moments outside of "Headache Revolution," too. The chord rundown at the outset of "Queen of Stormy Weather" can't help but put you in the mind of Bee Thousand's "Echoes Myron," and the vocal melody on "Heavy Crown" has more than a passing resemblance to "Everywhere with Helicopter" from GBV's Universal Truths and Cycles. But these echoes of the past are just that and used here to lead into Pollard's current sound. These days his vocal melodies categorize as a little looser, a little more drawn out and experimental.
This looseness fits Pollard and Boston Spaceships well. It shows Pollard, while he does peek over his shoulder once in a while, isn't interested in walking backwards, and he looks all the better going forward with John Moen and bassist/guitarist Chris Slusarenko pounding out the tunes behind him. Sure, it is easy to hear a knockout, goofball pop song like "Canned Food Demons" or the swaying lilt of "Sylph" or the intricate orchestration of "Lake of Fire" and call to mind different periods in the Guided by Voices discography, but direct comparisons never quite fit because Guided by Voices is over. And Boston Spaceships is not a side-project. It is Pollard's excellent new rock band, with their own wide swath of sounds, their own loose-limbed, wild-eyed sound and their own pure pop joy. And The Planets Are Blasted proves quite a statement for a band just getting started.