Circus Devils is another in a seemingly never-ending onslaught of projects from Guided by Voices kingpin Robert Pollard. But before dismissing Ringworm Interiors as a side trip you can do without (or even embracing it blindly, as many Pollard disciples do with each release), consider that this album is like no other in his pop canon. By and large, this has to do with the fact that Todd Tobias (he dressed up a couple of tracks on Isolation Drills and is the brother of GBV bassist Tim Tobias, who plays guitar here) creates sound collages that are loud and eerie -- frightening at times. It features psychedelic boat rides that lead to a poorly lit and wicked place, where even the nursery rhymes of youth become foreboding. Beauty dances with ugliness, much like it does in the work of Roman Polanski and David Lynch, filmmakers who are drawn to the amalgam of good and evil that permeates the real world. Furthering the connection, many of Tobias' instrumental beads could be effectively re-scored to works like Twin Peaks and Rosemary's Baby. There are occasional breaks from the intensity (for the melody-driven "You First" and the acoustic-based numbers "Apparent the Red Angus" and "Playhouse Hostage"), but the vibe is always lurking. There's even an attempt near album's end at putting a positive spin on the proceedings with the type of lo-fi arena rock that recalls vintage GBV. But the trio really shines through the darkness when ominous musical warnings are merged with cryptic tales of an unmoral universe, voiced with an unsettling whimsy. The point is made -- even in the brightest of light, "night lurks without a spine."
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AllMusic Review by Bart Bealmear