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Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks

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Album Review

Robert Pollard has a clearly defined sound and style as a songwriter, and as a consequence, nearly everything he does carries his recognizable creative stamp, whether it's his solo work, his albums with Guided by Voices, or his increasingly large number of post-GBV projects such as Boston Spaceships and the Keene Brothers. What's surprising about the first album from Pollard's latest side project, Cosmos, is that for a change it doesn't sound all that much like a typical Robert Pollard album. Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks was written and recorded in collaboration with Richard Davies of the Moles and Cardinal, and while his approach has clearly rubbed off on Pollard, the often spare and slightly trippy tone of these 14 songs stakes out a territory separate from Pollard's revved-up smart pop and Davies' more polished and Baroque approach. Given how big Pollard can sound with a band and the lush surfaces of Davies' music with Cardinal, what's most unexpected about Jar of Jam is its compact simplicity; many of the tunes find Pollard and Davies accompanied by no more than a guitar or piano and some hand percussion, a few selections are just ambient soundscapes, and when the full band does comes in on "Grapes of Wrath" and "For the Whiz Kid," the results sound like a leaner and more compact variation on Pollard's traditional approach. Cosmos doesn't represent an especially bold or radical new direction for either Pollard or Davies, and some of these selections are more like fragments than fully realized songs, but the collaboration does nudge both artists into directions they might not have pursued on their own, and if you've ever been interested in either of them, you'll find some fine moments here, even if they don't cohere into a strong whole.

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Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks, Cosmos
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