Robert Pollard: Coast to Coast Carpet of Love

Pollard inevitably releases two albums on the same day, one of which is worth your time.

Robert Pollard

Coast to Coast Carpet Of Love

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

Robert Pollard

Standard Gargoyle Decisions

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

No one can possibly be surprised that Robert Pollard is releasing two albums on the same day. It seems more like an unavoidable event than anything. He's released three albums in a month before, so he might as well go ahead and take this leap. What might be surprising about his latest Merge offerings though, is not how different they are. Cosmetics aside, how different are any of Pollard's releases? What is different is their level of success. Coast to Coast Carpet of Love is the best thing we've seen from Pollard on Merge, and the best we've seen from him overall in quite some time. Standard Gargoyle Decisions, on the other hand, is decidedly unsuccessful.

When two albums come out at once like this, I suppose the one you hear first is the "first" record. So, in that case, Coast to Coast is the first record of the pair, and it shows Pollard and studio pal Todd Tobias correcting many of the errors they've made over the years. Tobias' production and instrumentation have always aspired to sound lo-fi, but instead often come off as low budget. Fiction Man, Pollard's most forgettable solo offering is the best evidence of that. But here, the progress we saw on From a Compound Eye and Normal Happiness finally comes to fruition with an album full of clean, bright production, and Tobias' most solid playing on an album yet. It's nice to hear that the last remnants of lo-fi are totally absent from Pollard's songs here, as they can shine their power pop shine in their bigger, warmer digs.

This is also, pound for pound, his catchiest and most consistent Merge record. Where Eye and Happiness would indulge tangents, Coast to Coast stays focused. In 38 tight minutes of over sixteen songs, Pollard packs a lot of punch. "Current Desperation, (Angels Speak of Nothing)", "Our Gaze", "Miles Under the Skin", and "I Clap for Strangers" are some of the best power pop tunes you'll hear all year. They also happen to be much more revealing songs than Pollard normally gives his listeners. Not since GBV's Isolation Drills has Pollard seemed this vulnerable. "Robbers take new grave sites, take mine" he sings on "Current Desperation", a song like many on the album that probe at Pollard's, (who's a grandfather now), mortality. And while he still uses his weird imagery and syntax to relay emotion, ("God makes and breaks everything,/ so I clap for strangers now"), he can be surprisingly straightforward in songs like "Miles Under the Skin" where he claims "When I stare at the floor,/ I do it convincingly". For a guy so full of bluster and Miller Lite on stage, this seems a long way from the persona we know and love, and that's what makes it so effective.

There is little to complain about on Coast to Coast. "Penumbra" isn't as catchy as it could be. "Count Us In" is a little too plodding, as Pollard falls back on his oft-used, deliberately strummed minor chord verses. "Look is What You Have" is too bouncy and sing-songy. But none of those songs are out-and-out bad, and they don't slow down an album of quick jabs. Pollard fans will surely be pleased with the arrival of Coast to Coast, an album that fulfills the promise that his other Merge releases came so close to achieving. On this album, the Uncle Bob we know and love is back.

Unfortunately, some might get roped into Standard Gargoyle Decisions since it'll be right next to Coast to Coast on the rack. The problem is, on this album, Pollard and Tobias take a step backwards in every way possible. Where Coast to Coast was supposed to be power pop, this album promises straight-ahead rock 'n roll. But that promise goes unfulfilled.

What we get instead are fuzzed out and downright sloppy versions of the stuff we've always heard from Pollard. He is guilty once again of putting the artifice of change on music that is essentially all the same, (i.e. Circus Devils are the Takeovers are the Keene Brothers and on and on...). By letting Tobias pump these songs full of distortion, a distortion that often sounds toy-like and silly, Pollard thinks the listener will see Gargoyle as a sweaty, grimy rock record. Instead, it's a lazy album. The opener "The Killers" has a chugging guitar riff, but goes nowhere lyrically as Pollard reverts back to nonsensical goofiness ("The killers,/ they're coming to get you").

Uncle Bob also turns to a new trick he's been cultivating over the last couple of years: self-mockery. On songs like "Butcher Man" and "Motion Sickness Ghosts" he drops his voice to a cartoony baritone that's supposed to be funny. You can feel Pollard mugging at the studio mic as he sings, but the songs aren't good enough to handle his attempts at humor. Most of the songs just sound like Pollard is not trying. The songs could be full of his pop hooks, but he's got Coast to Coast for that, so why bother here?

Well, Bob, you should bother because these songs got nothing going for them without those pop hooks. There's a reason you got a warehouse, (or car trunk), full of Psycho and the Birds' records, Bob; the people want the hooks.

With a few exceptions like the solid "Shadow Port" and the blue light tune "Island Lobby", there's not much to be found on Gargoyle that's worth remembering. It seems impossible that someone who's been so good for so long at making rock music, could set out to make rock here and fail. We all know Pollard has to put out 45 records a year to feel productive, but maybe he could cut down to 41 or 42 and give them all the same amount of attention. Because, up against Coast to Coast, Standard Gargoyle Decisions just sounds neglected.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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