This Week in Music, July 9, 2013: Guided forevermore by the voice and pen of Robert Pollard

Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk

New release (GBV Inc.; tour dates for Guided by Voices)
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

When you’re the prolific Robert Pollard and you tend to release dozens of songs each year on multiple albums, one thing is certain (despite what the ultra-faithful think): Not every song on every album is going to be a gem. This is particularly true when you’re being especially prolific — as in the past 18 months, when Pollard has released four albums and one EP with his reunited main band, Guided by Voices, and now three solo albums, for a total of 130 songs, 97 of which he wrote alone and another 13 of which he co-wrote.

That said, more things are certain: The gems are far more prevalent, and typically they’re truly sparkling.

Besides, faced with an album like Honey Locust Honky Tonk, whose 17 songs scoot by in 34 minutes, the listener can never keep a semi-furrowed brow for long. So if some of these tracks are, on Pollard’s scale, fairly standard — the rudimentary piano ditty of “Strange and Pretty Day,” the clocking-in-at-50-seconds-and-too-short-to-get-anywhere “Suit Minus the Middle,” the hopscotching “Find a Word,” the shambling “Igloo Hearts” — then fret not, because a winner (and another) (and another) will be along in a minute or two.

Among my fave winners: the effortlessly deft (or is that deftly effortless?) pop tune “She Hides in Black,” the stabbing-guitar-filled rocker “Flash Gordon Style,” the acoustic ballad (and seeming cover-photo soundtrack) “I Killed a Man Who Looks Like You,” and the big, towering “Real Fun Is No One’s Monopoly,” which lurches toward us as frightfully/wonderfully as the Frankenstein monster. Elsewhere, the lyrics further elevate music that’s already up there, such as this tantalizing conclusion to the nearly anthemic “Who Buries the Undertaker”:

And who marries the cake maker
And who marries the undertaker
And who buries the dead canaries
The coal miners
In case you will not know

Oh, and if 17 songs aren’t enough, be advised that the album’s two opening tracks each sound like they’re packing three mini-songs inside. But whereas both “He Requested Things” and “Circus Green Machine” have steady acoustic strums followed by a descending electric figure, “He” adds power chords while “Circus” adds stuttering chords — helping to make this pair of triple-mini-song selections seem completely different.

Oh, and if Pollard’s Theory states that “When you’ve played it and sung it once and there’s really nothing more to play and sing, then the song is over,” be advised that the album’s two closing tracks each take their time to ring some chord changes. But whereas the 2½-minute “It Disappears in the Least Likely Hands (We May Never Not Know)” does it with midtempo rock, the 3½-minute marathon-for-Pollard “Airs” does it with languid layers — helping to make this pair of relatively contemplative numbers a rich conclusion for an album whose creator sees no end to his personal diamond field of songwriting.

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