the sublime sonics of airport 5: tower in the fountain of sparks

Throughout the entire affair, Sprout skillfully throws layer over layer of moody texture over Pollard’s purposeful strokes, without any overbearing or embarrassing side-effects…”


by john richen


The other day the world as we know it goes up in an explosive ball of fire and a cloud of mortar dust, electrical smoke and glass.

You know the unspeakable which has been spoken of enough.  Remembering will suffice now.  Words and analysis leave me hardened and cold.  When a spirit is charred there’s nothing left to turn to but art.

Buy a record. Help the economy recover.  Spend some dough.

It is my civic duty just so you understand.

Tower In The Fountain Of Sparks.”

The album title kind of jumps from the shelf the disc is perched on and out of my mouth.  Sensitive to imagery in the immediate aftermath. Towers, sparks, planes….imagine that, an American, suddenly sensitive to violent imagery. I read:

Airport 5

New band? What is Airport 5?

Turning the disc over a familiar logo glows in the lower left corner.  Here is something worthy.  Transmissions from a Fading Captain.

I buy the disc and walk away…

…later when my head clears I figure it out.

Airport 5 is the first collaborative effort between Guided By Voices lead man Robert Pollard and his former band mate Tobin Sprout since Sprout departed GBV in 1996 after the release of Tonics and Twisted Chasers. According to the sparse liner notation for this 13th release in the Fading Captain Series, Sprout recorded the music in Northport, Michigan and sent the unfinished tapes to Pollard who completed the compositions at Cro-magnon Studios in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. You wouldn’t know it by listening though. This has neither the sound nor feel of a hastily conceived 4-track project tossed off between studio sessions for something more ambitious and profitable. It’s much more than the usual collection of fractured gems and spontaneous emissions that are trademarks of the highly collectable nature of this unique series of releases.

Fans who’ve missed what Sprout brought to the mix — a treasure trove of textured tonal trickery that blended expertly with Pollard’s smart pop bursts and anthemic rock postulations — should be floored by the compositions the two collaborators unveiled for Tower In The Fountain Of Sparks.

Lifting off with “Burns Carpenter, Man Of Science,” Sprout’s influence becomes immediately apparent in the post-apocalyptic six-string constructs building the sonic lead-in. As Pollard repeats the mantra “This kind of love, will destroy the ozone,” Sprout chops away at spacey Duane Eddy meets Ricky Wilson notes. Instantly you’re transported to a different age when the dynamic duo practiced ancient rituals of harmonic channeling not experienced since Syd Barrett fondled his first stringed instrument. The results of this union were some of the coolest and most bewildering rock compositions of the last decade, which culminated with the indie-revered GBV opus, Bee Thousand.

Through the dripping squeals opening “Subatomic Rain” Pollard sings as if wedged head first into a vat of high viscosity motor oil, pushing his deliberate prose up through swirling, middle-eastern tinged pulses of electric guitar. Haunting, murky, gelatinous — this is not your mother’s average Bob Pollard tune…but then again, this is not your average Fading Captain pressing either.

Perhaps so as not to thoroughly disorient you Pollard lurches into the garage bully thrash of “One More,” a throwaway rocker punctuated by well-lubricated yelps and hollers. Maybe he thought we forgot the old days? Maybe there’s a stubborn notion that the big-rock, Foghat chops of Isolation Drills pushed those faint memories of low-fi debauch six-feet under? But here memories reemerge — a whole cadre of cigarette clutching curly-headed step-children let loose from a Burgie-soaked basement. A good bellowing rave-up if you will. But it’s funny, “One More” seems, as a curly-headed step child often does, uncomfortably lost among the phosphorescence of its more stately companions.

The orchestral, dirge-like drone of “The Cost of Shipping Cattle” casts its spell, leaking from some surreal David Lynch inspired hallucination. It moves a hundred different directions at once — compelling and disturbing in its imagery and mood. A contradiction? Maybe. But the overall effect its staggering. It is a weighty meditation, but it’s truth remains hidden as most often seems the case with Bob at the pen. “Did he or did he not, use shocking equipment to make you happy?” Pollard sings. Question or warning? Not sure I want to know the answer.

Throughout the entire affair, Sprout skillfully throws layer over layer of moody texture over Pollard’s purposeful strokes, without any overbearing or embarrassing side-effects. The sugary, some might argue formulaic, “Up The Nails,” further exemplifies the sort of pop prowess the two are capable of when they combine forces. As catchy as “Up the Nails” is, it is quickly surpassed in its plastic, transistor-radio perfection by “Feathering Clueless (The Exotic Freebird).” Here’s a bittersweet antithetic of a song that manages to be harmonious, morose and uplifting all seemingly within the same breathy chorus and cascading chord change.

While originally saddened while pondering the album’s all-too-soon conclusion I learned that a second Airport 5 tentatively titled Life Starts Here has been completed already, although no release date has been set. For as silly as such trivial excitements may seem at times spirits are crippled and charred by fire, great art does hold the power to help us find that path lost out in the smoke. If Tower In The Fountain Of Sparks is any indication of what the future holds, I hope Pollard and Sprout put out 15 more of these discs. It’s something to think about anyway. That is, besides visions of carnage, vengeance, destruction and Armageddon….

Unlike most of the rest of the Fading Captain Series — a collection mostly comprised of papillary revelations tossed off during Pollard’s apparently endless bouts of inspiration, and always containing the customary jewel or three — Airport 5 is a fundamentally inspiring collection from start to finish. It is deserving of much larger exposure than it is likely to receive from the loyal GBV completists snapping up the limited copies. With that notion in mind, it’s probably in your best interests to pick up a copy of Tower In The Fountain Of Sparks before it disappears faster than you can say Kid Marine.


Originally published:
Issue Fourteen
October 2001


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