» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Doug Gillard
Pink Frost Records

Rating: 9.5/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Soon, it'll be closing time for Guided By Voices. Last call is a New Year's Eve show in Chicago that promises to be the indie rock social event of the season, if not the decade. Afterward, Robert Pollard will turn off the lights on the band's 20-year career and shoo the drunks and other assorted hangers-on into the streets to serenade the city like soused alley cats with rambling, off-key versions of "I Am A Scientist" and "Tractor Rape Chain."

It hardly seems possible that anything could upstage such a momentous occasion, but wouldn't you know it; one of GBV's own has gone and done just that. Salamander is the first solo album from guitarist Doug Gillard, and it's a revelation.

Some of that old Pollard magic must have rubbed off on him, because Gillard has crafted a classic pop record, and I don't use that term lightly. The songs of Salamander are elegant and beautifully crafted, with a bittersweet flavor that owes as much to The Lemonheads and The Pernice Brothers as it does to George Harrison, the Beach Boys and the bands of the British Invasion Pollard idolizes.

It's the kind of album that makes you look at someone like Gillard in a whole new light. No longer will people see him as simply a sideman who can play a mean guitar. His plainspoken lyrics get highly personal, revealing a depth and character he's only hinted at before. Welcome to the big leagues, Doug. Take whatever jersey number you want.

On the winsome opener "Valpolicella", Gillard sings, "It sure feels good to have a moment of Divine." The whole song is a little slice of pop heaven, from the gently swaying acoustic guitar to the sweet "La, la, la, la, la, la, la" background vocals and the unassuming charm of its infectious hooks. Salamander seems to feed off Gillard's personality, adopting his sly Cheshire cat grin in the lighthearted, buoyant pop bounce of "Me and the Wind" and the brooding intensity of his stage presence in the balls-out, angry acoustic strum of "Symbols, Signs."

Mostly though, Gillard is preoccupied with fading memories of people and places that have left an impression on him; his lyrics are evidence of the kind of wisdom that only comes with age - not that he'll be applying for his AARP card anytime soon. Stirring up echoes of Beck's Sea Change, "The Cape And The Bay", with its ocean spray melody and rich acoustic sweep, is a wistful look back at a relationship that fell into emotional disrepair. On a drive past that takes him past the water, the truth comes crashing down on him and he sings, "Right there, it dawned on me that you were blessed." And so are we, the listeners, awed by the arpeggios Gillard plucks from his guitar - the kind that remind of Pete Townshend's more reflective moods. Somehow Gillard keeps them from burying one of Salamander's prettiest melodies.

Nothing, however, compares to the closer, "(but) I See Something." Rolling piano tides and Joshua Pollack's vibrant, plaintive violins play together like laughing children who don't have a care in the world. And yet there's a hint of regret in the music that makes you wince ever so gently, as if you've just remembered something you did that caused someone else pain.

More folk-oriented than what you'd expect from someone whose solid-as-bedrock electric guitar crunch injected some life into GBV in the band's later years, Salamander offers up lithe, expressive acoustic textures and soft beds of strings, tastefully arranged by Pollack, on the ballads "Momma" and "Present." The songs are tender odes to women who've touched his life over the years. Caught in the longing undertow of "Present" are these lovely, humble words: "Frequent is the day/I'll turn to her and say: Thank you for the years/Your presence is still felt in here." Anybody need a hanky?

After wiping away the tears, Gillard turns up his amps on the driving anthem "Fate, Say It Again" and the sneering "Drip-Nose Boy", biting guitar salvos that show that when Gillard wants to rock, he still means business. His solos are masterful exercises in restraint. He nestles them in the song instead of parading them about to stroke his ego and that speaks to just how good he's become at making music that's so fully realized, you wouldn't want to change a note. That he plays all the instruments on Salamander, except for Pollack's strings and the three songs where Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, Jay Farrar and Marah were invited to play on, makes you appreciate Gillard all the more.

Salamander's brilliance shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about Gillard's past. He's paid his dues, with interest. Long before joining Pollard's merry band of drunken rock n' roll misfits, Gillard was cranking out powerhouse guitar riffs for Cleveland's Death Of Samantha, the 80's precursor to Cobra Verde. Later, as part of Gem, he recorded "I Am A Tree", the best song by far on the somewhat weak - my opinion, for what it's worth - GBV record Mag Earwhig!

Who knew back then that Gillard would have us basking in the glow of one of the warmest, most endearing pop records in recent memory? Salamander is music for that old man sitting in a rocking chair on his porch, reflecting on a life filled with sorrow and joy. As it all comes flooding back, he can't help but be amazed at how it all unfolded, not in any preordained way but in a random series of events that, by some twist of fate, worked out just as they were supposed to. And there's something… well… perfect about that, no matter how many times you've screwed up. I'm not sure that makes any sense, but I think you get the idea. Gillard still has a lot of living to do and with any luck he'll be making records like this for a long, long time. And that's the kind of hope I cling to.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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