The standard angle on Robert Pollard, past (and future) Guided By Voices frontman and eternal indie-rock king of Dayton, Ohio, is to highlight his prolific streak. And it’s not an unfair reputation, either, as according to his record label, Pollard has released a staggering 24 solo albums on top of Guided By Voices’ (and his various other, non-GBV projects’) output. Across those dozens of albums, a few things remain consistent: Pollard’s cracked-mirror approach to songwriting, and a catchy pop-rock sensibility that he couldn’t shake if he tried. The trimmings—production, instrumentation—can vary, depending on his collaborators.
For his first solo album of 2016, Of Course You Are, Pollard’s picked a good one: Nick Mitchell, a member of Pollard’s current side project Ricked Wicky who also produced the album. Mitchell’s production hews closer to the major-label slickness of Isolation Drills than the broken-speaker effect of the Bee Thousand era, Pollard’s vocals coming in clearly while resting comfortably in the middle of the mix. But Ricked Wicky’s—and presumably Mitchell’s—prog-rock influence comes through most clearly in the instrumentation. Straightforward guitar-rock tunes like opener “My Daughter Yes She Knows” are adorned with arpeggios and other fancy flourishes, and “Instant Pandemonium” coalesces Pollard’s recent obsession with classic rock into a rousing series of power chords evoking long-haired rocker dudes in wood-paneled basements.
Beyond the guitars, Of Course You Are gets even more adventurous. More so than prog, the prevailing influence seems to be late ’60s pop: Minor-key ballad “Come And Listen” is backed by orchestral strings that lend poignancy to Pollard’s raw vocals, subtle organ hovers in the background of the mid-tempo track “The Hand That Holds You,” and the psychedelic electronic soundscape swirling behind twin acoustic tracks “Contemporary Man (He Is Our Age)” and “Losing It” nudges the record into Elephant 6 territory.
These elements all come together on the sixth track, “I Can Illustrate,” which starts as a typically hooky uptempo Pollard composition before a guitar solo breaks the song wide open, making room for blasts of strings that add a baroque edge. It’s tempting to wonder whether the elaborate instrumentation was deployed to cover weak songwriting, and indeed, in the slighter tracks, the pace begins to drag and the lyrical seams begin to show. (Repetitive lyrics and throwaway tracks are nothing new for Pollard, but “Promo Brunette” is no “Kicker Of Elves.”)
But if you’re going to keep churning out records at the pace that Robert Pollard does—and he will continue to do so, even though (or maybe because) GBV is touring again—taking risks and expanding your musical palate is the only way to avoid stagnation. And while Of Course You Are may do so with only modest success, it’s a success nonetheless.