New Music Review: Boston Spaceships; ‘Let It Beard’
The album, which is the band’s fifth in three years, has been described by Pollard as a “subconscious concept album about the sorry state of rock and roll.” Pollard’s songwriting is often ambitious. As he puts it, “Nobody writes ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’-type songs anymore…for this record I wrote a bunch of them.” Songs frequently contain interesting structures; they take detours and end in unexpected ways. Many of the tracks are mini-epics built by combining the kind of fragments Pollard is famous (or infamous) for into a cohesive whole, such as on the opening “Blind 20-20,” “A Hair in Every Square Inch of the House,” the closing “Inspiration Points,” the title track and “Tourist UFO,” which features a blistering guitar solo by J. Mascis, one of several guest musicians who make an appearance on the album.
The 26 songs on Let It Beard were what remained when Pollard and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Chris Slusarenko pared down acoustic demos of 40 songs recorded by Pollard. Slusarenko recorded the basic tracks with drummer John Moen over three days, and then spent the next sixth months fleshing out tracks and obsessing over things like cohesion, variation, and transitions before bringing the recordings to Pollard. When he showed Pollard the almost-finished product, Pollard was so pleased he actually stuck to the original sequence they had planned for the album, a first for any Pollard project.
There is only a small amount of filler on the almost 76 minute long Let It Beard, with Pollard having left the majority of his misses on the cutting room floor. And the album’s meticulous cohesion and flow mean that even if Let It Beard could have done without the skronk of “Toppings Take The Cake” or the acoustic dabbling of “(I’ll Make It) Strong for You,” they still function well as transitions.
Let It Beard does an admirable job of varying styles, textures and approaches, with Boston Spaceships taking on heavy, riff-driven rock, acoustic and electric ballads, psychedelic excursions and catchy power pop, such as on the horn-inflected single “Christmas Girl.” Another song with brass, “German Field of Shadows,” is dark, menacing rock.
One of the more unusual highlights on the album, “Let More Light in the House” begins with a slow tempo and psychedelic guitar textures over a simple chord progression played on acoustic guitar. The drums don’t enter until around 2:20, with the unexpected texture of a piano replacing the acoustic guitar and ever-shifting guitar textures. At around the 3:42 mark a banjo even joins the fray (played by Slusarenko) and somehow it all works. Unlike other longer tracks on the album, “Let More Light in the House” isn’t a song patched together from several different parts but one that can be broken into stages by its shifting textures.
Let It Beard is a big step forward for Boston Spaceships and for Chris Slusarenko’s role as Robert Pollard’s artistic foil in particular, and it should both please longtime Pollard fans and convert some detractors who complain that Pollard’s songs often feel like unfinished fragments.
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