One of my absolutely favorite Pollard songs was released in 2009, the incredible opener to Planets Are Blasted, Canned Food Demons. If I made a one-disc sampler of GBV-related tunes for a friend, this track would be on it for sure. The song serves as a perfect opening to Planets Are Blasted, the Boston Spaceships' follow-up to Brown Submarine. The trio of Pollard, Slusarenko, and Moen had a difficult task ahead of them when they set out to top their wonderful first offering, Brown Submarine, but they not only met that challenge, but managed to create one of the best albums in the entire Pollard-related catalog. This one is right up there with FACE/Normal Happiness and the best of the Guided By Voices records...
To be fair, Planets Are Blasted includes four recycled tracks from Pollard's back catalog, pumped up to Boston Spaceships level. This isn't new for the band, as Brown Submarine included the previously released Soggy Beavers re-recorded. For all I know, there may be more tracks that already existed in some form or another, but may not have seen the light of day until now.
Dorothy's A Planet, Headache Revolution, and Heavy Crown all first showed up on the Suitcase box sets as basically demos (already playlist worthy), and are left virtually unchanged except for the full band re-recording. Catherine From Mid-October was on Pollard's Zoom single, and is also basically a re-recording. The fact that they were chosen for Planets Are Blasted plays a big part on what makes this album so great.
Dorothy's A Planet may as well be this album's big single, with its soft verses, big chorus, and melody oozing from all parts. Pollard's vocals are spot on on this one as well. Catherine From Mid-October would have been right at home on FACE, as would Headache Revolution, as both show the band at their pop-rock best. Heavy Crown, however, may benefit the most from the full band re-issue. The album's closer finishes the album the same way it started, pure rock from a band having a great time. The outro, where Pollard sings "In this city there is nothing to cling to" is one of the best moments from the record.
Queen of Stormy Weather is not from a previous release, but it shares some of its melody from the chorus of The Naked Wall, from the side project Keene Brothers album (hat tip to John at My Impression Now for catching this). It also has the lyric "pee on my parade", so bonus marks there. It is just one more pop gem on this amazing album.
Continuing with the more pop-styled tracks on the album are Sylph, Lake of Fire, and The Town That's After Me. Sylph has some great lyrics ("Its not like her to strum so glum"), and is a bit of a soft-rock ballad. Lake of Fire is probably my least favorite track on the disc, but it is still good (note: every track on Planets Are Blasted is making the playlist), and it is the only song where the chorus is actually quieter than the verses. Finally, The Town That's After Me sounds like Isolation Drills-era GBV, but at a minute length it finishes just as its getting real good.
Tattoo Mission is a bit of an oddball on this album. Where most tracks follow the quiet-loud-quiet-loud-louder pattern, Tattoo Mission is more beat driven, and reminds me a bit of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir with the pulsing groove and musical layers that build throughout the song (and maybe because I heard Kashmir recently).
Keep Me Down and UFO Love Letters both start fast and heavy and never let it up throughout, utilizing fuzzed-out guitar and constant beats. They work separating the abundance of softer tunes on the album.
Now lets talk about Big 'O' Gets and Earful and Sight on Sight. Big 'O' is the anchor of the album, an epic sprawl with soft melodies leading to loud boosts of sound. After an amazing interlude, the song peaks as Pollard asks "will none of us be alive be alive when Big 'O' gets an earful?/one of us to survive when big 'o' gets an earful". Sight on Sight starts off sounding like a whimsical movie-musical, then quickly shifts to a brooding middle, before flipping to a rock opera.
Planets Are Blasted is the culmination of everyone being at their best. Pollard's vocals are as strong here as anything that he's put out since GBV, Moen's drums turn existing songs into full-fledged rockers, and the multiple instruments played by Slusarenko are top notch. Time will tell if Boston Spaceships is the new Guided By Voices, but so far, so good.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make the playlist):
01 Canned Food Demons
02 Dorothy's a Planet
03 Tattoo Mission
04 Keep Me Down
05 Big 'O' Gets an Earful
06 Catherine From Mid-October
07 Headache Revolution
09 UFO Love Letters
10 Lake of Fire
11 Queen of Stormy Weather
12 The Town's That's After Me
13 Sight on Sight
14 Heavy Crown