Robert Pollard
Not In My Airforce


4.5
superb

Review

by butcherboy CONTRIBUTOR (88 Reviews)
May 12th, 2017 | 11 replies


Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Tell my foes I'm Captain tonight..

I spent all of my early 20’s in and around bands, soaking and stewing in all the surplus of genres that can generally be swept under the umbrella term of ‘underground punk music.’ What I learned fairly quickly was that in those circles, a separate reverie was usually appointed to bands and songwriters that were classified as more ‘abstract,’ ‘experimental’ – noise music. What I also learned was that leaving aside the few truly talented singular acts on the scene, the bulk of people trying their hand at noise music were doing it simply because they wanted to be in band, but didn’t have the knack or the chops to write a melody.

It’s easy enough to see why being in a noise band has such an undying allure. Since it tends to paint with crazed strokes, noise or experimental music comes with a skewed grade curve. More simply, it’s easier to be considered if not good then at least charismatic, while remaining bad. But as intricate or masturbatory as it may be, abstracted music is an inward process. It’s a moment of making something highly personalized and then inviting the listener into your realm. Pop music by contrast, is an outward process. You’re writing for someone else, for everyone in fact, touching on basic pleasure triggers. And though that may and often does quickly spiral into pandering, it is also inherently more difficult to do. In that sense only, there’s much more to writing a song like Shake It Off than there is to conceiving something like The Seer or Kid A.

There are easy instances of bands that can walk that golden middle between highly-individualized and abjectly appealing. The Who’s post-1967 catalogue, even as it grew in scope and meaning, retained that primal moment of having a catchy, easily-digestible skeleton. The Velvet Underground rooted their entire philosophy in mutating pop songs into mangled test tube babies. Sonic Youth in their glory days mastered that aspect better than anyone. Not only was their image and music unabashedly eminent and cool, it also gave just enough slack as far as traditional songwriting goes to allow ‘squares’ some proper enjoyment without having to force it.

This is where we come to Robert Pollard - an anarchic, charismatic, inward man who has seemingly spent his lifetime in search of the perfect pop song. A pop song that’s invariably decentralized and demented by his noise penchant. Not in My Airforce was his first solo release, one of many to follow, albums that would come just as randomly and quickly as Guided by Voices’ own output.

Here is a quick run through the timeline surrounding Airforce. In 1996, the year it was released, Guided by Voices were riding out the hottest streak in indie history. Bee Thousand was already being touted as a masterpiece of the genre, capturing the respect and adoration of college radio, big-publication critics and the DIY scene. Alien Lanes and that year’s Under the Bushes would cement GBV as an enduring presence, capable of re-sparking that genius at a moment’s notice. They were also standing on the cusp of a winsome run of albums and EP’s to close out the century. In the middle of all that pomp and laurels, Pollard dropped a solo album, unceremoniously and sans fanfare.

Airforce is casually great, the picture of a man with a hot hand. These minute-long songs shuffle in one after another, hitting the pleasure centers of your temporal lobe with an irresistible pop hook, then bracing it by making the songs collapse in fits of noise, empty frequencies or sudden stops. Whatever capacities he has as a pop writer are tempered by nihilism and a total lack of filter, and that chaos has always seemed much more genuine and more firmly set than those leading the charge in more overtly experimental fields.

The album doesn’t veer far from GBV’s mode of operation. Short, trembling, lo-fi bites, ranging from acoustic ditties to full electric-treated ragers. Little quirky add-ons permeate these tunes, all 22 of them that barely pass the forty-minute mark. Eerie trilling ambience caps off John Strangle School, an asymmetrical solo cracks the beautiful Flat Beauty in half, and Pollard’s voice trails off in odd directions on Roofer’s Union like a psychedelic mystic. But despite these left-field brushes, Airforce is an incredibly tight and cohesive collection, one crackling in noisy static, with an ardent pop heart beating underneath.

And that is the point. Though it occasionally implodes in utter noise and a show of its creator’s personality, this is a pop record through and through. The tender ooh-ooh’s that punctuate Get Under It, the sing-along chorus of Chance to Buy an Island all reveal Pollard as someone who, in the steady face of his own strangeness, desperately wants to simply make something pretty.



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user ratings (15)
Chart.
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 12th 2017


5971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i may be over-intellectualizing in the intro, but it was on my mind this morning, so I tried to tie it together..



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp8buiwMAtQ

Chortles
May 12th 2017


20890 Comments


great writeup my man. i love gbv but haven't given any of pollard's solo stuff a shot - this seems to be pretty in line w/ everything great about them though

Digging: Burger / Ink - Las Vegas

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 12th 2017


5971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

cheers, Chortles.. this one is his best.. came at the height of their creative period.. easily stacks up with Alien Lanes for me..

Alastor
May 12th 2017


1792 Comments


Great review. I still haven't heard the latest GBV albums, but this seems more enjoyable anyway.

Digging: Hedge Wizard - Local Portal

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 12th 2017


5971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thanks, dude.. I would give their last one August by Cake a shot honestly.. it's solid and the best they've released in recent memory..

Pajolero
May 12th 2017


924 Comments


I want this on vinyl so much.

Digging: Grave Pleasures - Motherblood

Chortles
May 12th 2017


20890 Comments


would ya say august by cake is a step up from please be honest butcherboy? that one was pretty nondescript to be honest

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 12th 2017


5971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Chortles, it definitely is.. It's no masterpiece, but Goodbye Note in particular is the best song Pollard has put out in seven years easily.. But the whole album feels rejuvenated..

Divaman
May 12th 2017


1585 Comments


Wow, you've branched out from simple musical history to musical philosophy as well. Nice job.

Digging: Neil Cavanagh - City of the Sun, Valley of the Moon

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
May 12th 2017


5971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

as my ex-wife always said, Diva - I'm an unnecessarily complicated man..

Divaman
May 12th 2017


1585 Comments


Well, if that's the worst thing your ex-wife can say about you, you're doing pretty well with life.



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