1999. It was a new era for Guided By Voices. New band, new label, new elements to a classic sound…. you know the story. This was also the time when Robert Pollard’s fledgling solo career started to get some lift under its wings. The vehicle for all things Pollard, outside of GBV, was the Fading Captain Series. This label was home to a host of Pollard projects, some good, some not so much.
The first really amazing Fading Captain release and Pollard solo effort was his collaboration with Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department. In many ways, this is one of the most satisfying releases in Pollard’s catalog. These songs bring together the intimate, homemade feel of the best moments of Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand and weaves them into the mesh of Gillard’s instrumentation. Gillard’s music is polished and loaded with hooks, which proves the perfect vehicle for Pollard’s inspired songs. The album’s opener, “Frequent Weaver Who Burns”, is typical of the finer things on this record. Clean guitar lines and an easy vocal melody lift this song from the start. Really, the album just cruises from their. Other stand outs are the Pollard favorites “Pop Zeus” and “Tight Globes”. “Fo Something Real” hints at the Pollard-Gillard stadium rockers that surfaced on later GBV efforts. The song has the same big rock power but it’s delivered with small club intimacy and finesse. For my money, Pollard hits a home run with the last cut on the record, “And My Unit Moves”. The lyrics are cryptic but their delivery points to something darker, possibly ominous, possibly sad or nostalgic. It’s tough to determine the particular intent, but the song, as a whole, creates a perfect mood that speaks louder than the lyrics or any individual element.
Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department is a real high point in the ongoing career of Robert Pollard, as well as collaborator Doug Gillard. This one is not to be missed, so do yourself a favor and cruise over to Pollard’s site and pick up the CD for the meager sum of $5. Or you can surf ebay and pay something extortionate for the vinyl. Either way, don’t miss this one.