In the arena of the most capable, prolific songwriters in modern rock music, the two fellows on this disc are top seeds in the pop bracket. Superchunk's Mac McCaughan and Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices team up on this long distance collaboration, with McCaughan composing a tape of instrumental tracks and sending it to Pollard, who then added his vocals. While this CD is the 17th in a series started largely as an outlet for new or unused songs that Pollard's porous mind seems to suck clean out of the air around his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, Calling Zero
is notable as being the first Fading Captain release to stray from the extended GBV family. Pollard singing over MacCaughan's finished backdrops sets up a potentially difficult scenario, but thankfully, most of the songs gel. With GBV, the Midwest titan's strong suit has been forming songs from non sequitur phrases, usually in two-minutes-and-done clusters of big rock amplification. So, on Calling Zero
tracks like "Dumbluck Systems Stormfront," it's strange to hear Pollard's voice invading chirping horns and Latin-style percussion, or singing over slow-paced, Portastatic-style arrangements. There are real gems, like "Never Forget Where You Get Them" and "Again the Waterloo," which mimic GBV's shredded anthems, and McCaughan brilliantly recalls the mood of a church pipe organ's lament on "Ironrose Worm." Pollard's clever wordplay distinguishes the title track, with its double meaning (as in "Colleen's Hero/Calling Zero"), while both men shine in the Bob Mould-ish "It Is Divine." The beautifully fuzzed-out guitar lines, pulsating organ, and electro drumbeats of our man, point guard McCaughan, carry the day, but Pollard proves that he's still a vocal threat in the paint.