Album Reviews: Robert Pollard, Cass McCombs, and We Are Scientists

Blazing Gentlemen

Robert Pollard- Blazing Gentlemen

Grade: B

Release Date: 12/09/2013

Robert Pollard has always put forth an incredible amount of effort to contribute to the music scene. He’s most well-known as being the singer-songwriter for Guided By Voices, but Pollard has also branched out to have that same role in numerous side projects (Circus Devils, Mars Classroom and The Lifeguards to name just three) and he’s released an impressive twelve solo albums since 2008. One of the really nice things about Pollard is that even though he releases his music at such a frantic rate the quality of his music never seems to suffer because of it. We’re past the era where we’ll hear Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes-esque tracks from the man, but some of the classic qualities of Guided By Voices’ sound live on today thanks to Pollard’s efforts. There’s still incredibly urgent songs (16 songs take up a total of 33 minutes here) and the choruses still come early and often, and he rarely stops the music to re-set itself. That has to be appreciated as a fan when there are so many artists taking the misguided approach of stopping to introduce each song individually, destroying any hopes of a coherent set. If you like Pollard/Guided By Voices then you should check out Blazing Gentlemen, but if you’re unfamiliar with him than there are probably better starting points for you than this.

Track Pick: “Extra Fool’s Day”, “Tonight’s The Rodeo”

Cass McCombs
Cass McCombs- Big Wheel And Others

Grade: C+

Release Date: 10/15/2013

Cass McCombs shares a quality with Brendan Benson on this album, where both are talented artists who sing about easily enjoyable topics but aren’t overly interesting when they do it. Everything that is present on Big Wheel and Others tends to blend into itself as time progresses,  and it’s a bit perplexing why McCombs chose to keep so many of the songs present to release it as a double album rather than trying to be more selective. Big Wheel and Others contains some genuinely good tracks like “There Can Be Only One”, “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”, and the title track “Big Wheel”, but these seem to get overtaken by the plethora of songs which aren’t noteworthy. There are many instances on this album where points get stated in a disappointingly usual way, and the spoken samples featuring four-year-old Sean are an uncomfortable listen. Sean is a four year old kid whose youth was covered in a 1970 documentary named after him, and McCombs sampled segments of it where Sean tells stories about drug use, lack of belief in god, and how he would attack a policeman. It leaves me unsure about whether an awful person gave this kid a script to exploit him or if his parents really were messing with their kid’s life as much as it seems, but I’m not convinced that it was a necessary addition to the album as none of the songs seemed to run parallel to Sean’s storyline.

Track Pick: “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”

We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists- Business Casual

Grade: B-
Release Date: 10/15/2013

We Are Scientists is a very fun pop group, and if you ever get a chance to see them play live I’d highly suggest seeing them for the banter between Chris Cain and Keith Murray. Whether on stage or in interviews these two prove to be very fun personalities with great senses of humor, but it’s tough to view We Are Scientists as a legitimate artist when their best quality is making jokes. There are good, high-energy pop songs which can get stuck in your head scattered around their discography (and even surprisingly genuine tracks like “Courage” on this newest release) but it’s tough to envision them releasing an album which would say something new and not be limited to it’s time period. They’re the band who makes you laugh because of the obviously incorrect subtitles they inserted into the music video for “Nice Guys”, and they’re the band that decided to end this EP with a cover of “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, but I don’t think they’re the band to turn to for recorded music.

Track Pick: “Courage”

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