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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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Robert Pollard

Weather. Something about the weather, and how it's ever-changing here. But where is here? And how long does it take for that weather to change? A few moments of Googling around the phrase "If you don't like the weather in x, just waity minutes" reveals that x can refer to Montana, Michigan, Calgary, or New England, where y respectively equals 10, 5, 15, or a few. And that's just from the first page of replies to my query.

It's almost clichéd to note that this cliché can be easily applied to the musical career of Robert Pollard, who tends to take his songs wherever he wants when he wants to, even when his preferred course doesn't seem to be the course they should go. And while he has recorded under any number of band names over the years while releasing scores of records, his sprawling new album, From a Compound Eye, marks his first solo album since Guided by Voices disbanded. But where Pollard has historically been known to draw from and blend his much beloved "four Ps: pop, punk, prog, and pysch," F.A.C.E. finds Pollard leaning heavily on the latter two styles, to ill effect.

The new focus narrows his appeal, 'cuz if you're a pop-punk lover like me, you're going to find a lot of meh-list material on this album. The high points, such as the new-wave-meets-British-invasion thrills on "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men" and garage punk of "I'm a Widow," are splendid, but all too rare.

Instead, Pollard delivers an abundance of morose, meandering material in search of a hook over the course of this album's 26 songs. Opening track "Cold" lives up to its title, psychedelic flourishes burying a hook-free tone poem, riffing on oddball openers of other, better records that no doubt line Pollard's shelves at home. Taking a prog-lite approach is "The Right Thing," which kicks off with a muted bit of voice and guitar notes before going all drum-and-clock, the incessant percussion and paranoid-sounding vox taking us on a trip down a lane of bad psychedelic clichés. The ambitious "Conqueror of the Moon" marches to the beat of a host of psych-prog conventions, including rampant tempo changes, distinct and deliberate chunks of song that adhere like a loose medley rather than a coherent whole, a whistling part, cheap vocal recording gimmicks, synthesized spookiness… if you like your rock 'n' roll best when the performers wear capes, then this song's for you.

In fairness, a few of the F.A.C.E. tracks that firmly belong in the prog-pysch categories do manage to let their dim light shine a bit. "A Flowering Orphan" is pretty but slight, flute and cello cushioning a wistful vocal. A burst of energy lifts "Kick Me and Cancel" over its flanged chorus, even as I fully expect Pollard to employ a kaleidoscopic camera effect if he chooses to create a video for it. The stately, sturdy rhythms of "Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft" help overcome the noodly guitar bits and Randy Bachman-sized vocal emoting.

While there are certainly hardcore Pollard Heads out there who are going to go gaga over F.A.C.E., he's not offering much for the casual GBV fan to cling to here. Avoid if you're in the latter group, or have somehow missed Pollard's previous recordings.

by Steve Gozdecki

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