Waving at the Astronauts

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A quick look at Robert Pollard's post-Guided by Voices body of work makes two things clear -- left to his own devices, his solo albums tend to be uneven and often indifferent, while when he teams up with worthy collaborators (such as John Moen and Chris Slusarenko in Boston Spaceships or Tommy Keene in the Keene Brothers), he's still capable of making smart, vital rock & roll with a hard edge despite their pop inclinations. If anyone needs an example of this principle in action, they need look no further than Waving at the Astronauts, the second album from Lifeguards, in which Pollard teams up with his former Guided by Voices bandmate Doug Gillard. Gillard is a fine songwriter as well as a powerful guitarist (he penned "I Am a Tree," one of the finest GBV tracks written by someone other than Pollard), and with a similarly talented colleague on board, Pollard has made the strongest album he's released since he retired GBV in 2004. Gillard and Pollard both contributed to the songwriting on Waving at the Astronauts, and while there are plenty of Pollard's usual melodic tricks here and his lyrics are clever but oblique in his usual manner, the tunes are also shot through with a wiry energy and an adventurous but hard-rocking attack that make the most of their shared obsession with 1970s rock. And with Gillard's guitar work giving this music a firm backbone and a bold sense of drama, Pollard steps up his game as a singer -- he's sometimes sounded more precise than he does here, but it's been quite some time since he's felt like a for-real rock & roll singer, as he clearly does on this material. There are moments when Pollard and Gillard's fascination with the textures of prog rock allows these songs to meander more than they should, but far more often this music sounds intelligent but passionate and muscular, and Waving at the Astronauts is that rarity, a rock & roll album that's mature, adventurous, and exciting at the same time. It's clear Pollard and Gillard bring out the best in one another, and if they have any sense at all, they won't wait another eight years before starting work on Lifeguards album number three.

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