The sixth solo album by the prolific Robert Pollard -- founder of Guided by Voices -- may be the most difficult listening of his 20-year career. There's nothing particularly abrasive on the disc. Rather, it's difficult to perceive the thread that ties it together or to discern the architecture of its songs.
"Motel of Fools" begins with a medieval, a capella songlet that fades to silence before lo-fi electronics fade in, joined by acoustic guitars and minimalist drums. On "The Spanish Hammer," '60s acid-psychedelia merges with a cassette sample from Pollard's old heavy metal band, Anacrusis. Odder still are recordings of a baby and drunken parties, and a half-speed fragment from another Pollard release, interspersed among identifiable tracks.
Pollard's "Motel of Fools," like Julian Cope's "Droolian" and "Skellington" records from the early '90s, is great stuff -- if you're up for the challenge.
In sharp contrast stands the very accessible "Lost Planets & Phantom Voices," by Pollard's longtime friend and collaborator, Tobin Sprout. His first solo full-length in four years borrows heavily from '60s and '70s Britpop and San Francisco psychedelia.
"Doctor #8" is a novella of a song, whose economy of words brings to mind author Martin Amis: "Doctor #5 has his feet in the spray/ Doctor #6 has to work all day/ Doctor #7 has to sleep alone/ With Doctor #8." "Catch The Sun" suffuses the air with a meek-tempered joy, and on "Let Go of My Beautiful Balloon," Sprout recreates the desperate hopefulness of the 1968 Genesis single "Silent Sun" as he croons "In Somewhere there are people who won't hurt me/ Floating gently, ever flying, smiling back at me."