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Boston Spaceships

Zero to 99

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Guided By Voices, Inc.

If slow and steady wins the race, nobody bothered to tell Robert Pollard. Whether fronting legendary indie rockers Guided By Voices, flying solo or recording with one of his various side projects, the uber-prolific singer has been writing and recording songs at a ludicrous pace for over 20 years. He already has over 1,000 songs registered to his name with BMI, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Pollard’s current primary band, Boston Spaceships, which includes GBV’s Chris Slusarenko and The Decemberists’ John Moen, has released three records in the past 13 months. As if this wasn’t proficient enough, Pollard also released two solo albums in 2009, in addition to yet another album (the seventh) by Circus Devils, one of the singer’s other pet projects. Other Pollard bands that have surfaced in recent years include The Takeovers, Psycho and the Birds and Acid Ranch. Got all that? Of course you don’t. An investigation into the possibility of an army of Pollard clones running rampant through the hallowed halls of indie music is currently underway.

The fittingly-titled Zero to 99 finds the melancholy and malevolence that crept into Pollard’s recent solo efforts and his work with Circus Devils thankfully absent. Instead, the trio does what Pollard bands have always done best: assault the senses with a blitzkrieg of rapid-fire punk-pop sing-alongs that reel listeners in with catchy melodies before ending as abruptly as they peaked. While this is nothing new for lifelong Pollard fans or even those only vaguely familiar with GBV, it’s a style that works. Not every band has to “evolve or die,” after all, and Pollard’s high-speed, low-fi approach remains palatable time and again.

Despite releasing their debut barely a year ago, the trio demonstrates a remarkable degree of cohesiveness on this record, delivering each song with the type of collaborative ease that usually only time can help develop. Perhaps this is unsurprising, since Pollard and bassist Slusarenko were band mates in GBV and Moen is the type of all-purpose musician who sounds like he could mesh with just about any band. Although hints of Bowie, Pixies, The Ramones and early R.E.M. run rampant, the band doesn’t seem like it’s trying too hard to emulate these influences; in fact, the band doesn’t seem like it’s trying too hard to do anything at all. Instead, Zero to 99 reflects the seemingly effortless abilities of a band who sound like it had a few beers, pounded out some pretty cool rock songs and then recorded them in studio without obsessing over or attempting to overproduce them. The result is not only the strongest effort so far by Boston Spaceships, but also one of the most unpretentious, approachable albums of the year.

Boston Spaceships forgoes the frequent indie modus operandi of gloom and despair, instead creating an album that is – brace yourself for this alien concept – fun. Album opener “Pluto the Skate” offers an early indication that listeners aren’t in store for the usual heaping of despair and angst that have become indie rock staples. Being a Pollard record, Zero to 99 also serves up the usual hearty dose of abstract images and seemingly cut-up phrases that only one person in the world (the songwriter) is likely to understand, but this is mostly an album filled with fantasy and dreams, holy mountains and golden coastlines, good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll and even a purposely cheesy intro in which the narrator comments that “it’s really cold outside, so what do you say we warm up with some really hot rock?” The album’s underlying tone of merriment is far from the campy, one-dimensional Top 40 variety, but is instead a more complex, even bizarre, kind of joy (“Go inside now/ The war is over/ Found a pearl and a four leaf clover“). Even the somewhat darker lyrics on songs like “How Wrong You Are” and “Meddle” are alleviated by rollicking, airy arrangements. Couple this underlying air of buoyancy with the singer’s deceptively rich voice and listeners are in store for arguably the most consistent Pollard effort since GBV’s much-heralded Bee Thousand.

Despite the skill and promise that this band continues to show, listeners probably shouldn’t get too attached. Pollard, after all, has a habit of forming and dismantling bands as fast as listeners learn they exist, and his various other interests (in addition to his literature, collage art and various other side projects, he recently formed the band Cosmos with Richard Davies) may prevent Boston Spaceships from having a lengthy lifespan. For now, though, listeners should enjoy and appreciate this record for what it is: a highly entertaining, intelligent achievement that ranks among the best of Pollard’s extensive career.

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