Robert Pollard - Not In My Airforce
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Not In My Airforce is the first of many solo recordings by Guided By Voices founder/frontman, Robert Pollard. Recorded in the same year as the wonderful Under The Bushes Under The Stars, the mini-album Sunfish Holy Breakfast, and the great live album Jellyfish Reflector, Not In My Airforce is an incredible acheivement. Not many songwriters could put out such a great, and diverse collection of work in the span of one year, and Robert Pollard seems to do it with such ease.
The songs on this album vary in production quality, care, and instrumentation. The opener "Maggie Turns To Flies" starts Not In My Airforce with a lo-fi percussion introduction, which blasts into a finer produced sound reminiscent of the official GBV album of 1996, Under The Bushes Under The Stars. Following "Maggie Turns To Flies" is a duet with Chavez's Matt Sweeney, "Quicksilver." This is one of the best songs Pollard has ever written, although the production quality is one of the crummiest of the album's offerings. The sound is so raw, it feels as if it were written two minutes before it was recorded (which is probably correct), and therefore captures the zeitgeist of the collaboration. Another track worthy of mention is the tender "Release The Sunbird." This is one of Robert Pollard's most affectionate songs. The tender ballad is one of the most exciting songs on Not In My Airforce. The song is one of sadness and longing, and Pollard's wonderful vocals pull it off with perfection. Oohlala!
If you may have had the pleasure of going to a Guided By Voices show, you may recognize a few of the songs off of this album. "Get Under It", "Maggie Turns To Flies", "Girl Named Captain", "Flat Beauty", and "Psychic Pilot Clocks Out" are commonly played at their shows, and they are captured in great versions on Not In My Airforce. (I must make a note that on the Guided By Voices website, gbv.com, there is a great live version of "Quicksilver" which can be downloaded, and the live album King's Ransom: Happy Motherfuckers and Sad Clowns has a very good version of "Release The Sunbird").
Following the awkward "One Clear Minute" is the riff-fest "Chance To Buy An Island." I'm sorry, but this song rocks. For the last week, I have been playing air guitar to this while making lunch. The vocals on "Chance To Buy An Island" fit in so well with the dirty sound of the recording. I would die to see this song played at a Guided By Voices show.
Remembering back to when I first bought Not In My Airforce, the only other Guided By Voices album I had heard was Do The Collapse, which I loved at the time (and still really enjoy), and I did not fully appreciate the album until I had seen them live. Not In My Airforce may not have been as accessible to me, as it may be for you (especially if you are "hip" and enjoy Bee Thousand), but it is has grown to be one of my all-time favorites.
In conclusion, although I am a very big fan of Guided By Voices, I have to say this is one of the best albums Pollard has made. And since this is the first of many reviews of the Guided By Voices catalogue that I have been commsioned to do, I feel bad giving Not In My Airforce such a high rating, but it really is fantastic.
By: Sean Wright
Published on: 2003-09-01