Calling Zero

Go Back Snowball

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Calling Zero Review

by Bart Bealmear

Guided By Voices' maestro Robert Pollard is the King of Melody. The man could be given a recording of garbage trucks in reverse and emerge with something hook-laden. Thankfully, he has more to work with on Go Back Snowball's Calling Zero, his highly anticipated collaboration with Superchunk's own leader, Mac McCaughan (and Pollard's first venture outside of the GBV camp). The move paid off nicely, as Pollard's lyrics and melodies play off of McCaughan's instrumental beds (and vice versa) as if the two had been honing their craft together for years. This is all the more impressive given the fact that the gifted songwriters have never been in a studio simultaneously. McCaughan sets Pollard up beautifully throughout Calling Zero, with scores that recall Guided By Voices ("Never Forget Where You Get Them," "It Is Divine), the synth pop of New Order ("Again the Waterloo," "Throat of Throats"), the lighter side of Superchunk ("Go Gold"), and his own solo project, Portastatic ("Lifetime for the Mavericks," which starts off sounding like Bob Mould covering GBV). Needless to say, the Captain is up for the challenge. Adventurous fans will be pleasantly surprised to hear classic Pollard refrains over a horn section ("Radical Girl), a sparse, acoustic guitar/percussion/trumpet arrangement ("Dumbluck Systems Storefront"), and something downright danceable ("Again the Waterloo"). A hypothetical question is also raised: What if Black Sabbath bought a drum machine ("Climb")? The strained chorus and throwaway phrases on the otherwise fine acoustic-rooted ballad "Calling Zero" is the one time the plan fails, while "Red Hot Halos" is an example of the plan when it all works perfectly -- as the words and melody interact with the shifting musical moods to create something more than worthy of the expectations.

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