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‘Motivational Jumpsuit’ more of the same from Robert Pollard

Scott Ostrin, Columnist

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“Motivational Jumpsuit” is a fuzzed-out, overdriven blur through abstract lyrics, soft and eccentric vocals and half-baked ideas.

But this is nothing out of the ordinary for Robert Pollard and his latest collaboration with the ever-shifting Guided By Voices. Formed in 1983 and continuing a reunion gig going since 2010, the band and Pollard’s imagery-laden vocals make a return on this LP. Much like previous releases (such as 1994’s “Bee Thousand”), eschewing conventional structures of songwriting, such as verse-verse-chorus-what-have-you, makes an expected return. Songs rarely last over a minute and a half on this LP, and when they do, they have something to say or something to be. Everything else is there for the fun: The intro song has two verses, and Pollard’s still singing about being the big fish in the little pond? Drop it. Cut the song off at 1:18.

But does it work? It entirely depends on the songwriting and the production style. Any song that doesn’t follow a natural progression is kind of like being airdropped into a lightly decorated cube. If the space isn’t well decorated, it’s not going to work since it doesn’t lead anywhere. Pollard knows this, and he uses this concept to guide us down some very narrow corridors. When that 2:30 minute song hits at the end of four rather similar punk confectionaries, structured like the songs of normalcy we’ve become acclimated to, it ironically feels like a whole new take, something innovative and new. But of course it isn’t.

These minute-long corridors are varied in their emphasis on levels, and they change nearly every song. On “Save the Company,” Pollard pleas for one last Sunday with the company in a romantic, Stockholm-esque cry when he sings, “So endlessly rescued and mayors run, to the golf for your teeth.” He sings this despite her being dead and buried and having gone to the greatest lengths to take the smallest things from him. The nature of the relationship is ambiguous because Pollard drowns his own voice out with the sound of bass ricocheting against distorted guitars in the foreground. Pollard’s pleas are the texture against the pulsating rhythm of electric strings.

But despite the abstract uncertainty, the incessant drone of lo-fi buzz and padded, pitter-patter drums, something shines through every five or six songs. That something is Tobin Sprout, longtime collaborator, who spearheads the album’s two best songs, “Jupiter Spin” and “Shine (Tomahawk Breath).” Sprout’s down-to-earth melancholia is the perfect opposite to Pollard’s often abrasive and strident lyrics. We can understand Sprout’s pain because he communicates it. He makes his voice the center and lets the guitars come out of their cages to solo.

So I could tell you what I thought of some of the shorter, individual tracks. Some of them were boring and repetitive. Some of them had me wanting more and cut me off at a peak of anticipation. But that doesn’t matter. If you’re not along for Pollard’s ride, “Motivational Jumpsuit” will fail you regardless of its comfortable punk rock grooves.

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