Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Robert Pollard/From A Compound Eye/7.1

Packed with 26 stylistically and lyrically sprawling songs, it's difficult to excavate any simple proclamations from FaCE's considerable girth.

From a Compound Eye has a long history, only briefly hinted at in the PFM review. Pollard and Todd Tobias recorded From a Compound Eye in the summer of 2004 - shortly before the street date for GBV's last album and the band's farewell tour. However, many of the songs are taken from shoe boxes full of old lyrics that Pollard's kept around since the seventies. So this album is not just new material that he never did with Guided By Voices, but old songs that he never brought to the band. Not only is the material from the album over a year old, CD-Rs of the record surfaced at a couple of other review sites this time last year - both Cokemachineglow and Sponic reviewed the CD-R. This fullly realized album remained without a label for over six months before Merge signed it as part of a two album deal with Pollard. Interestingly, the second album of that deal is already in the can and ready to go.

I went back and listened to Half Smiles of the Decomposed after I got this record. Listening to Guided By Voice's final album once more, I became aware of the instrumental limits of the band. Tobias and Pollard go beyond those limits on From a Compound Eye, exploring Robert Pollard's "Four P's" - pop, progressive, psychedelia and punk - into a new variety of areas. Many tracks sound like they could be performed by GBV's recent line-up - two guitars, bass and drums. However, others feature instrumentation and production beyond anything Guided By Voices has ever done as well as most of Pollard's Fading Captain releases. Not since Bee Thousand has Pollard's songwriting found more suitable production. Unlike Bee Thousand, the performances aren't accidental brilliance but carefully shaped gems produced by Tobias and Pollard.

The daunting thing about this record is the sheer volume. At twenty-six tracks, it's an onslaught of the Four P's. It took me a few attempts before I could make it all the way through. Even then, I found that I lost my way after a full listen. Raised on double lps, Pollard has put together the album as four "sides". You can listen to each side - tracks 1-6, 7-13, 14-19, and 20-26 - as discrete pieces. If you're a purist, you can buy the record on vinyl. However, if you're thoroughly digital, you can still break the record into play-lists and enjoy it that way - just don't shuffle the tracks. Rather than slog through the whole record in one sitting, I recommend taking it in as sides with a break between them to grab a fresh beer or let the dog out.

You may ask if this is the same Robert Pollard as before and I'd say, "Yes". However, rather than struggle with the constraints of Guided By Voices/Cobra Verde, Pollard has created some of his best realized versions of his songs. While these are still the same Beatles/Who/Genesis inflected songs that Pollard has created for years, current bands could learn volumes from Pollard's craft as a songwriter. Also, not much is said about Pollard's voice, but after all these years, it still sounds full and expressive. A lot of musicians would be happy to have the type of consistent creative output that Pollard has had. From a Compound Eye is great example of that success and may be Pollard's best work this century.

The PFM review is about a full point too low for my taste. Mitchum sees the album as a break for Pollard - I see this as a new focus to Pollard's songs and their performances. If you already realize why Robert Pollard's songs have been so important to Indie Rock, this record will cement that importance. If you want to know why his songs have gotten so much acclaim, this album wouldn't be a bad place to start, before diving into Guided By Voice's nineties' catalog.