Inscrutable, indefatigable Robert Pollard returns with his 157th solo album in June and the thing with Mr. Pollard is you just have to remind yourself he is not here to be fathomed. There is no understanding what he’s up to, pretty much ever, at the level either of individual song lyrics or of larger career trajectory. Semi-famous, to some, for founding and fronting the Dayton-based band Guided By Voices way back in 1983, he also remains pretty much completely obscure, and growing more so by the ticking of our 21st-century clock. Such is the fate of anyone touted as an indie legend. The fragmentation of the marketplace leaves no legacies in its wake. (Current indie legends, take note.)
(And okay this is not really his 157th album, but it is his second, already, of 2011; and he has written more than 1,300 songs all told.)
This new album, Lord of the Birdcage, was created around poems he had already written and later decided to set to music. I can’t begin to claim enough expertise in Pollardiana to be able to note any resulting differences between “In a Circle” and Pollard’s previous work. All I know is this one is unexpectedly pretty, as his songs sometimes are, and (you were forewarned) incomprehensible, as his songs pretty much always are. Words flow by over a triplet-centric rhythm, the verses slipping past before you can quite catch them, the chorus marked by a series of phrases at once floodlit by emphasis and lacking any obvious through-line: “routine exercise,” “constant reverie,” “makeshift comfort suites,” and, the one which becomes its own sort of offbeat hook based on its location, “nine o’clock meetings.” He is clearly up to something here, and if he keeps putting this much material out, maybe someday I’ll figure out what it is.
Lord of the Birdcage is due out in June, on Pollard’s Rockathan Records label. MP3 via Pitchfork.