In 2008, Robert Pollard put together his new band Boston Spaceships, who are named after the spaceships on the album covers of the band Boston. The band also includes Chris Slusarenko (most instruments) and The Decemberists' John Moen on drums, though the songs are all written by Pollard. Since then, Boston Spaceships have released four full albums, an EP, and have a fifth album due in August. Brown Submarine is the first album from what is likely Pollard's most exciting and consistently rocking post-GBV band (including the solo stuff)...
I remember putting this CD on the very first time, and how excited I was after hearing the opening track Winston's Atomic Bird. There was something about the track that embodied the GBV sound in the early 2000s, and was different than the solo Pollard releases that were put out after the final GBV show. It is a quick rocker that is followed by the somber title track, Brown Submarine. The multi-vocal ending of the title track (with violin!) is beautiful. Similarly, North 11 A.M. also sets a dark tone only to pick up a more positive tone near the finish.
Some of the tracks on Brown Submarine are incredibly catchy pop songs. You Satisfy Me has a catchy main riff, and Pollard's knack for melody is featured on Two Girl Area. Andy Playboy is one of my favorite songs on the album, and is closer to a radio-friendly hit as anything else on the album. Go For the Exit can be included in this list, as it starts out as an acoustic little pop nugget, but becomes even more amazing when the full band kicks in.
Zero Fix has Pollard's vocals on equal footing with driven guitar, and the result is a stadium rocker, with many opportunities for fist pumps and karate kicks. The outro question "How High Can You Go?" is the perfect ending, and the song is book-ended by some voice mail recordings (referencing Navigating Flood Regions no less).
Ate It Twice, Psych Threat, and Rat Trap are all great tunes as well. Ate It Twice is a bit of a blues-inspired rocker, and I picture it being performed in a dark bar on the bayou. Psych Threat and Rat Trap are punk-infused, and sound like a band having a lot of fun doing what they do.
We first heard Soggy Beavers on Suitcase 2 in a form that was little more than an idea. In many cases, these ideas leaves fans wondering what could have been if they received the full attention treatment. Without changing the song altogether, Boston Spaceships manage to take the idea and fill it out into a pretty decent tune.
Trumpets show up near the end of Ready to Pop, a track that is really on the border of making the playlist. Unlike Ready to Rome, where Pollard's brooding vocals worked so well on Zero Fix but seem a bit odd on this one, Ready to Pop is just too much fun to pass on.
I am going to possibly spoil something for you here, and let you know that Boston Spaceships' follow up Planet's Are Blasted is amazing! That being said, the framework is very much grounded on Brown Submarine. There is a mix of friendly pop tracks, all out rockers, and a little bit of weird (but only a little bit). Where many Pollard side projects tend to have their thing that makes them unique, Boston Spaceships is, and sounds more like, a band creating a consistently good record that could (and should) extend beyond fans of Robert Pollard. Slusarenko and Moen bring the extra oomph required to propel Boston Spaceships to a level above most other Pollard side projects.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make the playlist):
01 Winston's Atomic Bird
02 Brown Submarine
03 You Satisfy Me
04 Ate It Twice
05 Two Girl Area
06 North 11 A.M.
07 Zero Fix
08 Psych Threat
09 Andy Playboy
10 Rat Trap
11 Soggy Beavers
12 Ready to Pop
13 Still in Rome
14 Go for the Exi