Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Go Back Snowball: Calling Zero (2002)

Go Back Snowball is made up of two indie-rock giants: Robert Pollard, and Superchunk's Mac McCaughan. McCaughan lays down all the music and Pollard adds vocals. I should start off by saying that I have been growing into quite the Superchunk fan (after finding all their tunes on eMusic), especially Foolish, that is a good album. Therefore, the expectations are high. Does Go Back Snowball reach the great heights expected by this dynamic duo? Maybe not. Is it a good album? Sure. Will it grow on you after repeated listens? Oh, definately! The music is interesting (a mix of fuzzed-out guitar, piano, and acoustic rhythm), and did I mention one of Pollard's best vocal performances...

The album starts off with the best track, Radical Girl. This song is a great example of Pollard's ability to throw tons of melody over anything, with McCaughan's off-kilter organ which sounds like the most mellow Rob Zombie tune never made. Following is the acoustic title track, Calling Zero. This one has been growing on me, and perhaps more for the catchy strumming work of McCaughan and less for Pollards (though still great) vocals.

If you asked me if I would include either Calling Zero, or the next track (Never Forget Where You Get Them) on my ultimate playlist a month ago, I would likely say no. After listening to this album on my way to and back from work a few times I have changed my mind. McCaughan's sonic grooves in Never Forget Where You Get Them are a perfect background to Pollard's vocals. On a side note, I find Pollard's singing on this album sounds as good as on any GBV-related album.

Red Hot Halos is a mix of beating guitar pulses and cutesy piano, and a somewhat letdown of a chorus. It does contain some of my favorite lyrics on the album; ("And sometimes when its 'look out below', the people move too slow"). Again the Waterloo is a static-radio rocker which reminds me a bit of Earthling-era Bowie (think Little Wonder). I'm on the wall on this one as for its inclusion on the playlist, though I'm leaning on keeping it since there is really nothing else like it from Pollard.

The sonic guitar continues into Climb, a short and simple track. Go Gold has a constant acoustic rhythm chased by a slow bass lead, and is another great example of Pollard's word-smithing ("Preconceived in half allegiance/Ideas of the wicked/Who remove you from your sickness/Young and old/Go gold", and "We will march one-half a million/From the tents to the pavillion/Where the drinks are being sold/Go gold").

Lifetime for the Mavericks and Throat of Throats continues McCaughan's melding of fuzzed-out sonic guitar with either acoustic guitar or piano. At just under two minutes, Lifetime for the Mavericks is another quick jolt of pop. Throat of Throats is a pretty tune, and it is at about this time I realize that this album would be cool soundtrack for some weird futuristic spaghetti western.

Ironrose Worm sounds like a carnival ride song, and It Is Divine is truly divine (yes, I had to do it no matter how corny it was). The chorus of "It is divine my child, and it only lasts a second" is possibly the most beautiful moment on the album. I should note that there is track with the same title (and some of the same lyrics) on Hardcore UFO's, but there is not any real similarity. Finally, Dumbluck Systems Stormfront finishes off the album with a gentle release.

I have to admit I did not get into this album the first time I heard it. It has definitely grown on me over time, and now more than half the tracks make my playlist. It is quite original within the GBV catalog, and I love the mix of acoustic elements and the psychedelic, sonic guitar. It does not reach the heavy riff-driven Superchunk awesomeness, but the overall mellow vibe is a great backdrop for Pollard to shine through on vocals.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist):
01 Radical Girl
02 Calling Zero
03 Never Forget Where Get Them
04 Red Hot Halos
05 Again the Waterloo
06 Climb
07 Go Gold
08 Lifetime for the Mavericks
09 Throat of Throats
10 Ironrose Worm
11 It Is Divine
12 Dumbluck Systems Stormfront


Anonymous said...

Love this album... did you really mean to leave Go Gold off the playlist?

Anonymous said...

i also would give this release high marks........radical girl with it's yo la tengo organ drones is one of bob's best efforts.....

More Hot Dogs Please! said...

Good review. I'm also a fan of both Superchunk (particularly Foolish and On the Mouth) and GBV, so I had high expectations for this one. Calling Zero sounds a lot more like Portastatic (Mac's side project) than Superchunk, by the way, so you might want to check them out too. I haven't heard all of their stuff, but Summer of the Shark is a very good album, and I Hope Your Heart is Not Brittle is also good, even if it's very lo-fi and doesn't sound much like Go Back Snowball.

Anonymous said...

Odd one, this. The tracks I put on my list (which would make a wonderful EP) are some of my all-time faves. I thought most of the others were typical growers, but with the exception of Radical Girl, they grab my attention less with each listen.

List songs:

Never Forget Where You Get Them
It Is Divine
Lifetime For The Mavericks
Throat Of Throats