Circus Devils


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While the vast majority of Robert Pollard's side projects sound pretty much the same as his "official" output, his albums with Circus Devils have always been a different kettle of fish; when Pollard collaborates with Tim Tobias and Todd Tobias, the music has a darker, artier, and more obscure edge than Pollard's usual smart pop creations, and if the results don't rock very much, the songs are challenging and satisfying in ways that set them apart from the majority of his post-Guided by Voices product. Gringo, the seventh Circus Devils album, demonstrates just how good Pollard can be when he has a worthy collaborator to challenge him; the melodic and instrumental contributions of the Tobias brothers give Pollard a chance to do something with the prog rock influences that have long been his dirty little secret, and these 16 songs fit together in a way that makes them seem less like a collection of fragments and more like a coherent musical whole, something that isn't always the case when Pollard is working on his own. Tim Tobias' keyboard work is the Circus Devils' secret weapon on Gringo; emulating a number of instruments, he adds a variety of bent sonic textures that bring a curious freshness to the melodies, and the codas and introductions bridge the songs with a subtle but deliberate intelligence, helping this album set a mood that doesn't ebb until the instrumental finale, "Yellow Cloud," comes to a close. And if Pollard's lyrics don't make much linear sense as usual, in this context their obscurity is an asset, contributing to the mystery rather than muddying the clarity of his poppier tunes. Between Gringo and Pollard's excellent work with Boston Spaceships and the Keene Brothers, it's increasingly obvious that he needs a worthwhile partner to do his best work, but the Circus Devils prove that he sometimes has the sense to hold on to a relationship with the right musicians, and this album shows this is one area where his judgment is spot-on.

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