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June 29, 2008

Comfest 2008: Hopefully the rain didn't get you

Thoroughly exhausted after the Comfest weekend, but it was overall a good time.  Thoughts:

  • That Friday afternoon lineup at the Offramp stage was probably the cumulative highlight.  Cheater Slicks, Guinea Worms, Necropolis, and TJSA all delivered.  The Slave Apartments set particularly ruled -- it had been around 10 years since I'd last seen them (at Pat's in the Flats in Cleveland with Gem . . . great night), so I was definitely loving hearing all the old hits ("Bottle Island," "My Mysterious Death," "Cheater's Heaven," "Rump Government" . . . too many to list, really).  Jeff Fernengel, Brainbow, and Weightless were Friday night standouts.
  • Didn't catch anything super-exciting Saturday, mostly because I missed the Saturday night bands.  Reports were that Muscle Puzzle, Dead Sea, and El Jesus sounded great.
  • I really dug the Sun's set earlier tonight.  I'd recently seen them as a five-piece at Bourbon Street and things seemed kinda disjointed, but the power trio lineup definitely delivered tonight.

Obligatory bad photos (with a few ok ones thrown in for variety's sake):


Cheater Slicks at Comfest 2008

Cheater Slicks (bigger photo)

 Guinea Worms at Comfest 2008

Guinea Worms with the Columbus Hardcoretet (bigger photo)

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments at Comfest 2008

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments (bigger photo)

Ron & Ron

Comfest All-Stars Series #1: Ron House with your lame narrator

Ron & Jeff

Comfest All-Stars Series #2: Jeff Fernengel & Me (I figured after Ron House & Fern, the All-Stars Series was ripe for early retirement)

Jeff Fernengel at Comfest 2008

Fern & Friends (bigger photo)

Brainbow at Comfest 2008

Brainbow (bigger photo)

Brainbow at Comfest 2008

More Brainbow (bigger photo)

Blueprint & Weightless at Comfest 2008

Blueprint & Co. (bigger photo)

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June 10, 2008

Something new worth reading

A new webzine, The Agit Reader, just recently made its debut.  Judging by the first few pieces posted and the contributors list, it's definitely worth the time of the people who stumble in this direction.  Looks like while it is sorta Columbus-based, it's got a fairly global focus and will be updated regularly -- so far I've dug reading the Mudhoney interview and Kevin E.'s take on the new Pollard record (I guess he provides a cogent pro to my mumbling con).  Anyway, I've added the link to the sidebar, so remember to check it out.
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June 04, 2008

"Will you still hate me? Will you still rate me so low?"

Robert Pollard Is Off To Business

So yesterday was the official release date for the new Robert Pollard record, ominously titled Robert Pollard Is Off To Business.  A title like that begs for comment, so I'll avoid that trap in favor of some gratuitous self-reflection.  It was three months ago that I swore off "non-major" Pollard releases, and, perhaps sadly, Off To Business hasn't been doing anything to make me change my mind.

Over the past few weeks, I've given this record a good number of listens, as I am wont to do with Pollard releases.  Hell, I remember my first impression of Not In My Airforce was that it was clearly outclassed by Tobin Sprout's Carnival Boy (each was released by Matador on the same day shortly after the demise of the "original" or "classic" GBV lineup).  After a week or two, though, I was able to recognize Not In My Airforce as a stone classic, and I even got into those last six songs.

Unlike NIMA, "Off To Business" hasn't taken off at all after repeated listens.  "The Original Heart" and "Gratification to Concrete" are alright . . . sorta groovy riff-rockers with decent hooks.  "The Blondes" is ok for a slow, almost reluctantly half-hearted stab at an anthem.  "1 Years Old" is the kinda one-minute-something Pollard rocker that would work between two top-notch songs, but it just seems lamer stuck early in the record sandwiched by "ok" and "alright" tunes.  "No One But I" completely drags in points, but has some so-so moments.

And that's all of side one.  Yup, five songs -- 10 songs on the record -- which everyone will recognize as a low number for a Pollard record.  I guess I thought, "If there's only 10 songs on the record, they've got to be pretty well-crafted and . . . um . . . good."  But I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, side two starts off with the best song on the record, "Weatherman and Skin Goddess," which is actually a really good song, a solid pop-rock tune that rolls and gains some nice momentum.  "To the Path!" rocks after a draggy beginning and is probably the second best one here.  The other three songs on side two, though, range from forgettable ("Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off") to ok ("Western Centipede").

So there you have it.  A Robert Pollard record with only one inspiring song ("Weatherman"), and a bunch of songs that range from alright to forgettable. 

It sorta makes me wonder why I keep buying these records, and why I keep getting suprised that they're not living up to my (tempered) expectations.  For what it's worth, I point to two factors for the marked drop-off in Pollard records:

  • Complacency.  The guy had pretty much everybody (myself included) swooning over his every move during half of the 90's.  No one could really blame him for "going for the gold" with those two TVT albums, and most everyone stood by him during those last three Matador albums, which Jim Greer will argue are among the best records Pollard ever made, but in actually are probably just "fairly good" with an increasing number of lame moments sprinkled in ("Window of My World," anyone?).  It seems Pollard's content to have had his extended moment in the sun and focus now on just churning out record after record.  He's got his dedicated fan base that will buy anything with his name attached to it, and he has his name on a couple of "greatest songwriters of all time" lists.  Judging from sites like last.fm, there's still a steady stream of kids discovering GBV, which is a good thing (one question from May 23: "What should I listen to after the awesomeness that is Bee Thousand?"), and you've gotta believe that a handful of those kids will go through a "buy-everything-Pollard" phase that will keep justifying Psycho and the Birds and Circus Devils.  Pollard's got his base, so he might as well not fuck with the formula and keep making an honest living.  That's good for Pollard and good for the die hards, but it doesn't bode well for schmucks like me hoping for a late classic.
  • The Hands-Off Approach.  As I understand it, the past few Pollard solo records have really been Pollard-Todd Tobias records.  Pollard writes the songs and records them into the boombox.  Then he sends the tape to Tobias, who lays down all the instruments and has the tracks ready for Pollard to lay down the vocals whenever he gets up to Kent.  Again, as I understand it, Pollard's just rubber stamping the Tobias instrumental tracks with maybe a few requests here and there.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Todd Tobias.  You won't find many people who dig the old Ghost Sonata and Four Coyotes records (and, for that matter, who dug all those Gem shows where Todd handled the bass duties) like I do.  At the same time, though, one of the major appealing factors of records like Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Not In My Airforce and Waved Out was the Pollard (and oftentimes Tobin Sprout) production.  Those guys approached recording as an opportunity to find their own unique sound, something that was entirely personal and inimitable.  They were willing to take chances, and often the fuck-ups were better than what was actually intended.  I'm a firm believer that you can't surrender your own record fully to another person's production, no matter how skilled or in tune that other person might be.  Off To Business sounds like me nailing a karaoke version of "Like A Rolling Stone" at the Ugly Tuna.  The singer might be able to convince himself that it's gold, but it's really totally awkward to everyone else, except maybe a few good friends sitting by the stage who are already trashed anyway.

I'll stop babbling.  Off to Business is for die-hards only.  Everyone else should download "Weatherman and Skin Goddess" from their preferred online music retailer and save their $10 for one of the batch of new records out there that, even if they aren't classics, will continue to reward repeated listens (May I suggest, the new Eat Skull?  I've listened to that one as much as the Pollard record, and while I still don't know about most of side one, boy is that side two good).  As for me, I'm sure I'll keep buying the "major" Pollard solo records and ranting about them here.

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