Robert Pollard

From a Compound Eye

(Merge; 2006)

By Bryan Rowsell | 20 November 2007

So here we are, one month after the final Guided by Voices show, and to date there have been no reported slashed wrists, no Bud Lite overdoses (well, no fatal ones, anyway) and, surprisingly, no new Pollard releases (not including Bob’s recent comedy limited vinyl-only release, Relaxation of the Asshole). Hell, it’s been nine months since that final blow to indie rock was threatened, and five months since last release by GbV. What’s the hold up, Bob? Sadly, I don’t have the answer to that question; one can only assume the issue is dominated by record company bullshit.

What I do have, however, is a copy of From a Compound Eye and, more importantly to you, Mr. Pollard’s permission to write about it. Mr. Pollard’s been talking about this double-LP since before the GbV break-up announcement, though given Bobby’s penchant for last minute changes (hell, FaCE was slated to be titled American Superdream Wow!), who’s to say if this will be FaCE’s final state or if the project will undergo further mutations. In any case, FaCE is here, if not to stay than to at least enjoy a beverage or seven.

In short, FaCE is luminous in its presentation. It skillfully amalgamates all of Pollard’s 20+ years of music production in 26 tracks, and ranks as one of Pollard’s most consistent releases to date. On direct comparison, surpassing 1996’s Not In My Airforce (your humble reviewer's favourite Pollard solo album) or 2001’s Choreographed Man of War, would be nearly impossible. However, FaCE stands up as complete and isolable work of art, lacking the normal Pollard editing lapses so prevalent on even the best of GbV releases.

The album’s opener, “Gold,” is driven by ethereal keyboards, distorted guitar and harmonica, wouldn’t sound out of place next to the best from Go Back Snowball. it also contains one of Pollard’s most sunny, post-Isolation Drills lyrics: “I never ever met a day I didn’t like.” The rock-out “Field Jacket Blues," its oddly-timed opening lick being noteably addictive. “Dancing Girls and Dancing Men” could have been recorded by old blue-eyes himself, with its familiar beat and high-end guitar work.

“The Right Thing” starts off sounding like something from Suitcase I, with an out-of-tune Pollard doing his best Ben Gibbard impersonation. Thankfully, the song kicks off its second stanza with amps turned up and drummer in tow, eventually ranking among the best from FaCE. “I’m a Widow” follows a few minutes later, exemplifying its NIMAF/CMOW high-octane flavour. You can just imagine Pollard wearing that Naval uniform jacket, high-kicking his Chuck Taylors in the studio. None of “Kick Me and Cancel,” “I Surround You Naked,” or the superb album closer “Recovering” would sound out-of-place were they to appear on GbV albums proper. That isn’t to say that they sound at all like they’re lost in the shuffle on FaCE; on the contrary, these songs compliment the prog bend that permeates most of the rest of the record rather adroitly.

Pollard makes his principal artistic strides in the softer, more experimental portions of FaCE. Before, some of these tracks might have represented some of the least listenable songs on GbV/Fading Captain work. On From a Compound Eye, Pollard adds accessibility to the experiments and the music is left to bloom, not wither.

“Flowering Orphan” is a hauntingly beautiful keyboard-driven song, which could've sit nicely along-side the softer moments from Circus Devils’ Ringworm Interiors. The link between Pollard, Circus Devils and FaCE is not surprising, given that Pollard’s producer-du-jour is Todd Tobias (member of Circus Devils and brother to former GbV bassist Tim); tellingly, Tobias’ influence is in no short quantity here. Other offerings like “The Numbered Head,” “Conquerer of the Moon,” “50-Year-Old Baby” and “Kensington Cradle” (the latter sounding like a Nightwalker outtake) contain various Todd-isms.

One recurring theme throughout FaCE is the relationship to Pollard’s older work, a fact made no less surprising by Pollard’s own admission to surfing back to his suitcase (now mostly transferred to CD-R thanks to his girlfriend) and reworking these ancient gems. Pollard’s self-admitted obsession with pop music is widespread, and it just wouldn’t be like the Fading Captain to ignore that very side of his songwriting persona. And he churns them out all over FaCE: “Dancing Girls And Dancing Men,” “U.S. Mustard Company,” “Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft,” “Hammer In Your Eyes,” “Light Show” and “I'm A Strong Lion” are all strong pop songs.

Compared to his past efforts, it's equal mixes of the low-key acoustica of Fiction Man, the prog influence of Ringworm Interiors and In Shop We Build Electric Chairs, and the pop-rock of Not In My Airforce. Thankfully, From a Compound Eye serves as a “best-of” from Pollard’s entire repertoire, taking away the genius from Fading Captain Series 1 through infinity, while ignoring the weaker material. FaCE manages to be new, fresh and experimental while still retaining the listenability of much of Pollard’s seemingly never-ending canon. Personally, I’d call it his White Album: smart, accessible, experimental and sure to polarize Pollard fans everywhere.