Robert Pollard, Space City Kicks
The longtime Guided By Voices leader—he’s also found time for 10 shows with that reunited-for-now band in 2011—began his studio year with this January solo LP, which follows in the sprawling, style-shifting tradition of 2009’s Elephant Jokes and 2010’s We All Got Out of the Army. But while Kicks’ twists and turns—the in-your-faceness of noisy opening track “Mr. Fantastic Must Die,” the gentle balladry of “Woman to Fly,” the sharp pop of “Something Strawberry” to name just a few—sound curious and cool in real time, the front-to-back experience doesn’t quite stick like Pollard’s modern-day best.
Lifeguards, Waving at the Astronauts
Longtime GBV’er Doug Gillard wasn’t in the group in the mid-’90s, thus he’s not part of its “classic lineup” revival. So Pollard worked his former No. 2 into the rotation with this February Lifeguards release, a joyous rock record armed with gems like guitar-forward opener “Paradise Is Not So Bad,” Wire-channeling post-punk workout “Product Head” (released on a 7-inch last year) and pseudo-spoken closer “What Am I?” Hey Bob, what say you follow up the current GBV dates with a late-era lineup swing?
Mars Classroom, The New Theory of Everything
The quality of Pollard’s occasional one-off collaborations has ranged from must-own (2006’s Blues and Boogie Shoes with Tommy Keene) to sorta skippable (2002’s Calling Zero with Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan). This March project with Gary Waleik of late-’80s college-rock outfit Big Dipper lands somewhere in the middle. By Pollard standards, the structures feel slightly simple, the hooks a tad undersharpened … with one glorious exception. If you hear only one RP song in 2011, make it “Wish You Were Young,” one of the most undeniably soul-stirring cuts in the man’s mammoth catalog.
Robert Pollard, Lord of the Birdcage
The polar opposite of Space City Kicks, this June solo album feels less like a shotgun blast of ideas than a considered strike from an expert marksman. Pollard flipped his usual writing approach here, turning words (specifically, some of his poetry) into songs. You’d figure the lyrics would shine, which they do (example: “Why do the cows keep coming/Just to run through the grinder?/Please excuse me, I’ve lost my girl/And I need to go find her”), and the music might lag, which it absolutely doesn’t. Try on the compellingly bouncy “Garden Smarm,” achingly gorgeous “In a Circle” or fist-pumpingly badass “Ash Ript Telecopter,” though really, there’s not a dud in the dozen.
Boston Spaceships, Let It Beard
Birdcage might have been an album of the year contender … were it not for Beard. Pollard’s fifth studio installment with the Spaceships (other members: former GBV bass man Chris Slusarenko and The Decemberists’ John Moen on drums) might be the best thing he’s done since 1995’s Alien Lanes. Yeah, it’s that good. Twenty-six tracks and 76 minutes of goodness, to be exact, gathering moments of pop genius (“Christmas Girl”), wonderful weirdness (“A Hair in Every Square Inch of the House”), hair-raising intensity (“German Field of Shadows”) and stealthy psychedelia (“Let More Light Into the House”)—not to mention some slick boy/girl harmonies and one killer J Mascis solo—that fit together better than they have any right to. Out August 2, it’s the perfect culmination of a massive year from Pollard. Oh wait, he’s got a Circus Devils disc coming in October …