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Robert Pollard

Normal Happiness (Merge)

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Each Robert Pollard record is guaranteed to include moments of perfect pop brilliance, surrounded by half-composed sketches and experiments that should have been left on the cutting-room floor. Normal Happiness is the second solo release on Merge this year from the former Guided by Voices frontman, and unlike January's sprawling From a Compound Eye, it does a better job of reining in Pollard's indulgent side, blazing through 16 songs in just under 35 minutes. Still, too many songs are ear-teasing hooks and little more: Beatles-worthy melodies and soaring sing-along choruses cut off just as they threaten to become catchy. Blissful power pop like "Rhoda Rhoda" and "Give Up the Grape" deserve better than their less-than-two-minute fates. The layered guitar and keyboard textures coat everything in audio honey (no lo-fi experiments here), and the closer songs come to the three-minute mark -- "Supernatural Car Lover" and "Top of My Game" -- the more Pollard's genius for pop sensibility emerges. Maybe someday he'll give these songs time enough.

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