this guy is all over the place
a couple were catchy but many more lows than highs

Grade 1.4

released May 31st, 2011

from the album - In A Circle - 1.5

from all music


What made Guided by Voices' rise from underground curios to indie superstars in the early '90s so noteworthy was that vocalist/guitarist Robert Pollard was also a teacher, an uncommon occupation for rock & roll idols. Pollard was born on October 31, 1957, in Dayton, OH. As a child, Pollard was groomed by his father to become a professional athlete, but in college he realized that music meant more to him than sports. Pollard formed Guided by Voices in Dayton in 1983 while working part-time at an elementary school. Also consisting of Paul Comstock (guitar/piano), Mitch Mitchell (bass), and Eric Payton (drums), Guided by Voices released their first EP, Forever Since Breakfast, in 1986. Pollard's love for British Invasion records, as well as an admiration for progressive rock and R.E.M.'s murky jangle, sculpted the band's early LPs, all of which Pollard, his brother, and the group's manager financed by requesting a loan from the Dayton Public Schools Credit Union.

Although Pollard remained at the helm, Guided by Voices had a continuously changing lineup in the '80s and '90s. A firm believer in the artistic qualities of "lo-fi" production, Pollard also has an ear for accessible albeit quirky pop, and when both sides converged on 1994's Bee Thousand, many critics began to chant his name. On Bee Thousand, Pollard's songwriting finally reached its potential, and the band's initial post-punk experimentation was toned down for hook-laden college rock such as "I Am a Scientist." The group was suddenly thrust into the mainstream, appearing briefly on MTV and acquiring the kind of glowing accolades from corporate magazines often given to established alternative bands like R.E.M. and Nirvana.

Pollard quit his teaching job, and the group performed on the Lollapalooza tour. A year later, Guided by Voices recorded 60 tunes in a 24-track studio; however, Pollard wasn't pleased with the results. At first uncomfortable with the songs' "hi-fi" sound, Pollard returned to the studio to finish the album, recording much of Under the Bushes Under the Stars in two days. In 1996, Pollard released his solo debut, Not in My Airforce. He continued to record albums on his own and with Guided by Voices until 2004, when he broke up the band and carried on solo. Two solo EPs, Zoom and Bubble, were released in 2005, with the albums From a Compound Eye and Normal Happiness following the next year. Silverfish Trivia kicked off a prolific amount of subsequent releases in the spring of 2007.

Like a man on a mission, Pollard made 2007 a hallmark year, releasing Crickets, the final installment of the career-spanning Fading Captain Series, one album each from his side projects (Acid Ranch, Airport 5, Circus Devils, and the Takeovers), and two solo albums (Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast to Coast Carpet of Love -- released the same day, no less). He also started his own record label, Prom Is Coming, on which Silverfish Trivia was the first release. Continuing with his "more is better" approach, by the end of January 2008 he had already released his first album of the year, Superman Was a Rocker, and Robert Pollard Is Off to Business followed closely after, in June. Pollard then slowed the pace some, at least relatively speaking, waiting until 2009 to release Crawling Distance (January) and Elephant Jokes (August). Following roughly the same pattern, his next record We All Got Out of the Army was released in February of 2010, followed by Moses on a Snail in June. Working with longtime collaborator Todd Tobias, Pollard got off to a quick start in 2011, releasing Space City Kicks in January and Lord of the Birdcage in May.

Album Review

One of the biggest failings of Robert Pollard's ever-expanding body of solo recordings has been that the sizable majority of them follow the same template: Pollard writes a new batch of tunes, throws some words on them, records the vocals and acoustic guitar tracks, and frequent collaborator Todd Tobias does the rest. Not surprisingly, these albums tend to sound and feel very much the same, and most of the strongest albums from Pollard's post-GBV repertoire have found him switching up his formula by working in different ways with other people, most notably on his Boston Spaceships, Keene Brothers, and Lifeguards projects. Now Pollard has found another way to upend his routine; while he has traditionally written music first and then added lyrics, for Lord of the Birdcage he's taken ten poems he'd previously authored and set them to music. While the lyrical and musical approach isn't all that different than what one would expect from Pollard, it does make a significant difference in the quality of the finished product, and Lord of the Birdcage sounds more carefully crafted than anything Pollard has made on his own since retiring Guided by Voices. The ten songs on Lord of the Birdcage don't boast much more lyrical coherence than we've come to expect from Pollard -- he's as impressionistic as ever here -- but the stylized images of his words are stronger and more pointed than usual, and he sings them with greater confidence and assurance. And while "Aspersion," "Garden Smarm," and "Ash Ript Telecopter" marry his words to the sort of smart pop melodies that have become his trademark, the minimal percussive angst of "You Can't Challenge Forward Progress," the gentle acoustic contemplation of "In a Circle," and the dynamic hard rock of "Silence Before Violence" suggest that this experiment has done as much for Pollard's melodies as his verbiage. Lord of the Birdcage is strong and diverse enough to stand out among Pollard's solo efforts, and proves once again this man's talents shine brightest when he finds new ways to challenge himself.

Track Listing

1 Smashed Middle Finger Pollard 3:13
2 Aspersion Pollard 2:59
3 Dunce Codex Pollard 2:31
4 Garden Swarm Pollard 3:42
5 You Can't Challange Forward Progress Pollard 1:46
6 In A Circle Pollard 4:31
7 You Sold Me Quickly Pollard 1:41
8 The Focus (Burning) Pollard 2:13
9 Ribbon of Fat Pollard 2:09
10 Silence Before Violence Pollard 3:19
11 Holy Fire Pollard 1:56
12 Ash Ript Telecopter Pollard 4:14