While the majority of aging musicians are compared to their earlier selves, and their later attempts contrasted for the worse against the accomplished albums that once were, Bob Pollard and Boston Spaceships altogether are in a special category with groups like Pierced Arrows and Mission of Burma, who are in the middle of a very long prime and can be fairly analyzed for what they are, rather than what they were at a much younger peak. Pollard is aided largely by his high output, however; if you're constantly writing songs, you're bound to come up with something worthwhile—or, you might be pegged as indulgent. Let it Beard is a little bit of both.
Since the 2004 demise of Guided by Voices, Boston Spaceships—one of several post-GBV Pollard projects—has already put out more records than most bands put out over the course of a full career. Funnily, it turns out that their career is over with Let it Beard, and furthermore, Guided by Voices have returned for a reunion, which was unexpected and seemingly unlikely, given that Pollard had once declared a reunion unnecessary, as he is Guided by Voices.
But we have this fifth and final Boston Spaceships record on hand. And it's quite a shame that the band is no more, because the trio (Pollard, alongside former GBV bandmate Chris Slusarenko and the Decemberists' John Moen) have a hell of a record to boast. The record is indulgent at 26 songs, allegedly whittled down from 40, its most tiring moments—toward the end, surely—no worse than anything to be found on a Guided by Voices record, and its most memorable moments, some of the best Pollard's recorded. There are gems like “The Ballad of Bad Whiskey,” an example of the details that keep Let it Beard interesting, what with its unexpected turns in minor, or “Make a Record for Lo-Life,” where Pollard's semi-British pronunciation only serves to show off a voice that sounds better than ever at 53.
J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. appears on what may be the record's best song, “Tourist UFO,” where Pollard's voice gives the slightest hint of shakiness and vulnerability in a way that almost reminds of early Michael Stipe; Mascis, meanwhile, manages to add so much of the hopeless melancholy that graces a large portion of Dinosaur Jr.'s material, and only on the basis of his guitar playing. In fact, over the roster of impressive guests who are spread throughout the album, some of whom seem irrelevant to the record for providing only guitar accompaniment, save for soul singer Tahoe Jackson, whose backing vocals on “Chevy Marigold” add just the right touch of harmony, Mascis' appearance is the only one to add a crucial mood and presence.
Wire's Colin Newman is wasted, as is the Dirtbombs' Mick Collins, both of whom bring guitars that sound a bit cheap and generic next to the depth of the record's majority. And Jay Carney favorite Mitch Mitchell (GBV) just about rounds out the album with an appearance that is no less than indulgent, making him, at very least, a consistent choice to help carry a record of the same theme. Yes, it can be a bit much at times. But on the whole, Let it Beard is a marvelous conclusion to a side project's brief life. [Guided by Voices, Inc.]
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