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Silverfish Trivia (2006)

3 Jan

Silverfish Trivia is a Pollard solo “mini-LP,” released independently while he was on Merge Records. It’s a stately, cinematic-sounding EP, containing three instrumentals and a predominately slow tempo and hazy psychedelic atmosphere. In its earlier incarnations, however, it was a more traditional full-length record, with an emphasis on rock and pop. Although the first working version is not a favorite of mine, the two subsequent sequences (differing from each other by only two tracks) are well worth reconstructing, especially since some of their best songs were never released on a proper album and are thus relatively obscure.

In late 2006, Robert Pollard embarked on a solo tour in support of Normal Happiness, and he introduced a handful of new songs as being from his upcoming album Silverfish Trivia. Of the six Silverfish songs played on tour, only two ultimately made the cut on the album. Around this time, an early version of the album leaked online, as low-quality mp3s:

The Killers (Silverfish Trivia Working Version #1)
1. 3rd Generation Punks (Street Velocity)
2. Met Her At A Seance
3. You’ve Taken Me In
4. The Killers
5. Touched To Be Sure
6. I’m Gonna Miss My Horse
7. Be In The Wild Place
8. Life Of A Wife
9. Circle Saw Boys Club
10. Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love
11. Cats Love a Parade
12. Piss Along You Bird

The first version of the album (called The Killers at this point) is atypically straightforward. Following two ambitious, eclectic albums on Merge, it seems like it would have been considered a step down if it had been released. It lacks the diversity and energy of those other albums; From a Compound Eye was a massive double-album, fully exploring all facets of Pollard’s songwriting (his famous four Ps — pop, punk, prog, and psych), while its follow-up Normal Happiness focused on short, bright pop songs with an experimental twist.

The Killers seems to have no particular focus. Although the songs are good,  the album hangs loosely together, lacking the wholeness that the album-centric Pollard usually goes for. I remember listening to the leaked version — which sounded terrible by the way — and being really impressed by the lovely acoustic numbers “You’ve Taken Me In” and “Life of a Wife,” as well as the poppy, surefire hits “I’m Gonna Miss My Horse” and “Piss Along You Bird,” the latter of which made an excellent final track. However, the mid-tempo rockers that had been played live, like “Met Her at a Seance,” “Coast to Coast Carpet of Love” and the slow, “Touched to Be Sure” didn’t do much for me, and I was already sick of “The Killers,” which had been the opening track on the Psycho & the Birds album All That is Holy. The album’s tracks existed uneasily together and something seemed off.

I believe that most of Pollard’s unreleased albums were aborted because they were flawed in some intangible way, and this is a prime example. The Killers sequence is fairly boring, despite some thrilling numbers like the multi-part opener “3rd Generation Punks” (later re-titled “Street Velocity”) and the short, infectious “Be in the Wild Place.”

The subsequent versions of the album fared much better.

Gratification To Concrete (Silverfish Trivia Working Version #2)
1. Come Outside
2. Street Velocity
3. Circle Saw Boys Club
4. You’ve Taken Me In
5. Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love
6. Life Of A Wife
7. The Killers
8. Touched To Be Sure
9. Piss Along You Bird
10. I’m Gonna Miss My Horse
11. Met Her At A Seance
12. Be In The Wild Place
13. Waves, Etc.
14. Cats Love A Parade
15. Speak In Many Colors

What a difference a few tweaks makes! None of The Killers’ twelve songs were dropped, three instrumentals were added, and the track order was reconfigured. Suddenly, the melancholy, cinematic core of the album comes into focus. After a few more edits, Pollard ultimately jettisoned the rock and pop songs and exposed the core for itself, but this sequence makes the entire set go down smoothly.

At this point, the album’s bookends were firmly in place, a pair of instrumentals written by Pollard but played by a string quartet. “Come Outside” gets its beautiful melody from an old Acid Ranch tune, while “Speak in Many Colors” is a string arrangement of “You’ve Taken Me In,” a melodic folk-pop song that also appears on this sequence.

A key difference from version #1 is that the sweeping, majestic “Circle Saw Boys Club” was moved from being late in the album to a prime number three spot. One of the best of this batch, the song was overshadowed following a series of rockers and ballads. Here, “Circle Saw” is up front, the first ballad after the instrumental intro and the manic “Street Velocity.” This position allows it to stake its claim over the tone of the rest of the material. In an interview with Billboard, Pollard is quoted as describing the album (at the time of the interview it one of its 15-track phases) as “much more somber and strange.” “Circle Saw Boys Club” embodies that description perfectly, and it’s clear that it is the heart of Silverfish Trivia and integral to the finalization of the album.

The album’s other centerpiece is the 8 minute, multi-part “Cats Love a Parade.” Slated as the penultimate track across every sequence, it is now set up by a third instrumental, the guitar and keyboard “Waves, Etc.” “Cats” is a long, lumpy incredibly psychedelic track comprised of three previously-released Psycho & The Birds songs, plus a bridge that doesn’t appear anywhere else. Such an unwieldy tune would be hard to place on most albums; on The Killers, it sat awkwardly between a chugging rocker and jubilant pop song. Here, it is in much better company, the instrumental bookends (mirroring the album itself) somehow enhancing the epic weirdness.

Silverfish Trivia (Silverfish Trivia Working Version #3)
1. Come Outside
2. Street Velocity
3. Circle Saw Boys Club
4. Wickerman Smile
5. Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love
6. Life Of A Wife
7. The Killers
8. Touched To Be Sure
9. Piss Along You Bird
10. Dream Lover 3 (Come Here Beautiful)
11. Met Her At A Seance
12. Be In The Wild Place
13. Waves, Etc.
14. Cats Love A Parade
15. Speak In Many Colors

The third working version makes two substitutions. “You’ve Taken Me In,” a highlight of previous sequences, is dropped, although it still exists in instrumental form as the album closer “Speak in Many Colors.” It is replaced by “Wickerman Smile,” an otherworldly tune built around the slow, deliberate strums of an acoustic guitar and Pollard’s winning melody. “I’m Gonna Miss My Horse” is replaced by a song called “Dream Lover 3,” another haunting acoustic track.

Both of the new songs were recorded on a boombox and then overdubbed with some subtle keyboard to add atmosphere. The simple , intimate arrangements and the tone of Pollard’s voice on these tracks makes them quite remarkable, among the best of this era. Although “Dream Lover” (subsequently re-titled “Come Here Beautiful”) did not make the final cut, these two tracks indicate that Pollard was narrowing down the desired tone of the album, deleting a couple of pop songs to make way some something a bit more mysterious and mystical.

Silverfish Trivia (Final version)
1. Come Outside
2. Circle Saw Boys Club
3. Wickerman Smile
4. Touched To Be Sure
5. Waves, Etc.
6. Cats Love A Parade
7. Speak In Many Colors

Ruthlessly, Pollard makes cuts left and right, whittling the album down to its basic core, using “Circle Saw Boys Club” as a guiding voice. The end result is like a movie soundtrack — indeed, most the songs with vocals follow unusual structures  that make them seem like miniature movies. Although I miss most of the cut songs, the released version of the album stands out in a couple of ways — it’s rare to get a Pollard album that has such a sustained somber tone throughout its duration. Furthermore, the predominance of instrumentals and the running length that places it somewhere between EP and LP makes it a hard release to pin down. It was put out quietly between bigger, flashier albums and occupies its own little corner of the Pollard universe.

When asked about why the full-length Silverfish Trivia was scrapped, Rich Turiel, who ran Pollard’s record label at the time, explained,

I think it was a few things with the biggest one being there was so much time in between the time that it was recorded and it was going to be released that Bob kept writing and kept wondering if the newer stuff he was writing was better than the stuff he recorded. Bob always gets that itch to record something he just wrote that he thinks is great. So when you have songs like Current Desperation and Miles Under The Skin and Rud Fins (you’ll understand this part soon) sitting and waiting to be recorded it is hard to sit on that! (From a post on the Disarm The Settlers message board, 5/17/2007)

In light of that explanation, it is easy to see why Silverfish Trivia the album was canned in favor of a low-key EP. In hindsight, the album tread water a bit, so Pollard made the right choice in keeping the most singular, interesting bits and chucking the rest. Silverfish ceded the spotlight to the newer, better, material that ultimately yielded two albums, Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions. These two are bolder and more noteworthy than the underachieving Silverfish Trivia Album.

Leftovers
I’m Gonna Miss My Horse (Crickets)
You’ve Taken Me In (Crickets)

Life Of A Wife (Coast to Coast Carpet of Love)
The Killers (Standard Gargoyle Decisions)
Come Here Beautiful (Standard Gargoyle Decisions)

Piss Along You Bird (Suitcase 3

Released as vinyl-only b-sides on the Happy Jack Rock Records Singles Series:
Street Velocity
Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love
Met Her At A Seance
Be In The Wild Place

The leftover songs were scattered across a variety of releases. Three made it to Pollard’s next two albums, while five more ended up as b-sides to singles released from those albums. “Piss Along You Bird” is the only one of the five b-sides to see release on CD/digital, as part of Suitcase 3.  The two cut from version #2 became bonus tracks on the Crickets compilation.

I highly recommend constructing a playlist of version #3 and appending “I’m Gonna Miss My Horse” and “You’ve Taken Me In,” either to the end or just before the album-closing trifecta.

Stuff to buy

To reconstruct the early versions of Silverfish Trivia, you need:
Silverfish Trivia + 4 HJRR Singles
Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle DecisionsCrickets
Suitcase 3
 

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