Saturday, January 11, 2014

Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99 (2009)

Back in June of 2011 I wrote my entry on Planets Are Blasted, the second album from Boston Spaceships, a collaboration between Robert Pollard, Chris Slusarenko, and John Moen. I put every song off that album on the playlist, and it cemented itself as one of my favorite GBV-related albums ever. Boston Spaceships are arguably Pollard's best band behind GBV and it was the banner under which Pollard's best work was released under while GBV was in hiatus from 2008 - 2012. Part of the draw of Boston Spaceships was that demo-ish tracks that were already released in products like Suitcase were re-created with the backing of a band making them more "complete", and their third release, Zero To 99, would continue this trend...

There are five tracks on Zero to 99 that were first heard in some form on the first Suitcase release. The one least changed is the opening song Pluto the Skate, which at first seems to be the exact same version from Suitcase. After closer listen, the softer parts of the song have some additional texture, but it is basically the same song. In my review of the original on Suitcase, I said "Pluto The Skate has a decent chorus of Pollard screaming 'Is everybody happy now?' over and over, but the rest of the track is disjointed and almost jarring with its switches in noise level". The jarring-ness has been improved, but it is still as disjointed as ever. Since A Good Circuitry Soldier is a fairly simple acoustic tune, it simply benefits from the re-recording, and we get an answer to the statement Pollard says at the beginning of the version on Suitcase, "I don't know what will happen to this". Its a beautiful song that gets an improved hi-def recording and full band treatment.

The other three Suitcase tracks get a complete overhaul, and they are all among this album's finest. In my review of Suitcase, I said that Trashed Aircraft was begging to be re-recorded, and we get that here. Though the sound is still distorted and a bit muted (maybe in tribute of the original?), this is a huge improvement with additional backing vocals and a stellar ending. Its great that Exploding Anthills got the remake treatment as well since the original on Suitcase messes with the vocals in a way that distracts from the song. Here, that is no longer an issue as the track is boosted with more instruments, clear vocals, and some great new lead guitar riffs.

With Meddle, I said with regards to the version on Suitcase that "Meddle is dark and gloomy, and definitely has the feel of Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia era songs." This re-recording reduces the gloominess and ups the rock, but it seems to lose something from the original. If I was making an early GBV playlist or CD the original would fit in perfectly, so I think that both versions hold their own and one does not necessarily replace the other.

I consider four of the Boston Spaceship original tracks on Zero to 99 to be gems. On the top of this list is How Wrong You Are. Everything from the lyrics, the great vocals and melody, and huge ending (that for some reason reminds me of the Muppets) makes this one of Boston Spaceship's best. Radical Amazement has that sweet slow burn similar to Pollard's Shadow Port from Standard Gargoyle Decisions where the song's mood is as important as its building layers. Let it Rest for a Little While is an understated rocker that grows on you after repeated listening, and Mr. Ghost Town is this album's standout fun-and-happy-pop track, which are in abundance in Pollard's work since the disbanding of GBV in 2004. 

Zero to 99 also features some quieter and somewhat darker songs. Question Girl All Right, Godless, Go Inside, and Return to the Ship all fall into this category. Whereas Go Inside has yet to resonate with me, I have grown to enjoy the others. Return to the Ship is a short and melodic song that doesn't really stand out much, and the same could probably be said about Godless, except there is something about Godless that makes me enjoy it the more I hear it. I think Question Girl All Right might have been meant to be this album's "hit". At over four minutes it is the album's longest track, and like many of the songs on Zero to 99, the final part of the song is louder and bigger than the part leading up to it.

To complete this tour of Zero to 99, Psycho is a Bad Boy and Found Obstruction Rock N' Rolls are the album's more punk inspired tunes, and I have trouble figuring out what I think of The Comedian. I think "ok" is the best way to describe The Comedian, since it is a fairly repetitive tune that gets a little more interesting too late (and right before it ends). 

There is still an EP and two albums to write about for the Boston Spaceships, but even three albums in under the Boston Spaceships banner we can determine that the banner is a synonym to quality just like the Guided By Voices label has been in the past and is starting again now. Even the most avid Robert Pollard fan has to admit that some Pollard releases are just not at the same level as others, and the best tracks are found under Guided By Voices, Boston Spaceships, the odd solo album, and a few others. Zero to 99 is a gift that cleans up some old Suitcase tracks that were hurt due to technical reasons, and also provides some great new original songs. It is not at the Planets are Blasted level of greatness, but it has its moments.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make the playlist):

01 Pluto the Skate
02 How Wrong You Are
03 Radical Amazement
04 Found Obstruction Rock N' Rolls (We're the Ones that Believe in Love)
05 Question Girl All Right
06 Let it Rest for a Little While
07 Trashed Aircraft Baby
08 Psycho is a Bad Boy
09 Godless
10 Meddle
11 Go Inside
12 Mr. Ghost Town
13 Return to Your Ship
14 Exploding Anthills
15 The Comedian
16 A Good Circuitry Soldier


gbv fan shock horror said...

Nice to see you writing reviews again

Neil Anderson said...

Glad you're back. I think the evolution from the Takeovers to the Boston Spaceships interesting--I wonder whether Robert Pollard realized what a good tight band he had, and then decided to go back and do justice to some of the best Suitcase songs.

Anonymous said...

Though a bit patchy and not entirely successfully sequenced, this may rival the incredible Let It Beard as my favorite Spaceships album.

On my list:

Trashed Aircraft Baby
Question Girl All Right
How Wrong You Are
Exploding Anthills
Radical Amazement
Let it Rest for a Little While
Mr. Ghost Town
Return to Your Ship
A Good Circuitry Soldier