Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Capsized! (2011)

Bob and the Tobias brothers return with their ninth Circus Devils record, and the sixth Pollard-associated LP released in 2011. Capsized! is a nautically-themed record that dials back some of the nightmarish aspects that characterized the previous record, Mother Skinny. Although the monstrous vibe has been down-shifted, there is still an unsettling, dark nature to Capsized!. After all, it is a Circus Devils album. There was no discussion amongst the band members regarding a theme going into the project. However, something about the instrumental pieces the Tobias brothers created and sent over to Bob inspired him to go in that direction. According to Todd Tobias, “Bob had not announced a theme or concept at the time I was recording for Capsized!, so I assume the finished music we sent him prompted the development of his seafaring theme – in particular the music that became the opening instrumental titled ‘To England The Tigers.’ If this is wrong, and Bob had the theme worked out beforehand, then it was a surprising case of creative synchronicity. The story is nautical gothic, detailing the troubled journey of a ship’s crew by way of expressionistic vignettes.” The release info for the album further explains the album’s thematic qualities:
Circus Devils hits the high seas with Capsized! (The exclamation point is part of the title). Once again the Ohio trio featuring Robert Pollard defies and transcends musical genres with a strangely coherent blend of soft rock, aggressive stompers, creepy soundscapes and a radio-friendly pop single (“Cyclopean Runways”). Capsized! Is cinema for the ears, taking the listener on a dark adventure with strange cargo, sirens, shipboard ghosts and bad soup.
This is an upper-tier Circus Devils album. One of my primary issues with Circus Devils records is that they tend to really drop off on the second half. Capsized! does not suffer from such a fate, as songs like “The Matter of Being Good” and Gable’s Ear Wax” really bolster side 2. There is also some stylistic diversity here that prevents the record from being being bogged down and becoming a bit too same-sounding like some Circus Devils albums are prone to do. All in all, another strong addition to the immense Pollard discography.

1. To England the Tigers – Dramatic, atmospheric instrumental to set the stage for the album. A brief injection of some staticky “monsters giving birth” to break up the straightforward arrangement. (4)
2. Capsized! – The return of the frightening jack-in-the-box on the title track. Todd utilizes an actual jack-in-the-box to conjure that creepy vibe and alert you that this will not be a smooth voyage. “When you’ve nothing left but to drown.” (8)
3. Cyclopean Runways – In several of the solo Pollard write-ups, I’ve commented how it sounds like Todd and Bob snuck a Circus Devils track or two onto one of those albums. Here, they reverse course and include a very hook-laden, no-nonsense, solo-Pollard-sounding gem on a Circus Devils LP. This is a top-tier Bob pop nugget. “Our sanguine argosy is full speed ahead.” (10)
4. Legendary Breakfast Code – Another surprise as the band mines that soft rock, or more appropriately for a nautically-theme album, yacht rock inspiration on this tale of home sickness. Sounds like the food on this ship is not particularly appetizing. “It’s such a coffin sailboat.” (8)
5. Nully Scully – We head below deck where things get a little more gnarly. Tim Tobias wrote the music for this one and lends some of his grimy guitar work to add to the vibe. “Skids of wreckage are leaving.” (5)
6. Aerial Poop Show – Quite a visual courtesy of this song title. Pretty much an instrumental track other than the injection of a trio of “Do it!’s” in the beginning and a “Hold your breath” about halfway through. I can’t imagine this is the type of Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia Bob had in mind back in 1989. (4)
7. Hangerman Suits – A restrained moody stomper of a track with Tim Tobias laying down a menacing riff. Todd sprinkles in his own version of The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” synth effect. “A test is all you need.” (7)
8. Leave the Knife Curtis – Things are getting ominous out on the sea. Bob assumes the role of negotiator as he pleads with Curtis to leave the knife. Another fantastic, threatening guitar riff from Tim Tobias. These are the types of songs where Circus Devils really excel. “We were under Cromwell's capricious artificial exterior status.” (9)
9. Vampire Playing a Red Piano – Spoken word Bob and a haunting piano from Todd combine to create the perfect cinematic track that sounds like it was taken from some old vampire film. Fantastic mood/scene setter. “Those boxes over there on the floor contain paralyzing secrets.” (6.5)
10. Double Vission – Tim Tobias’ second contribution to the LP is a crude, buzzing guitar track which starts out fairly straightforward. In one of the more interesting bridges of the Pollard catalog, we get to hear one of the sailors vomit over and over. Make sure you are not, or have not just finished, eating when you play this track. “I couldn’t take it, now I’m gagging in the soup.” (3.5)
11. What Wallace? – Those staticky “monsters giving birth” sounds that appeared for 8 seconds on the opening track get stretched out to a minute and a half on this bizarre instrumental piece. (1)
12. Plate of Scales – Back to the soft rock/70s AM gold sound that appeared on “Legendary Breakfast Code.” Lyrics once again turn to the concept of throwing up, this time exacerbated by feelings of claustrophobia. Some neat double-tracked Bob vocals cooked up by Todd. “Was that a pistol or a missile? Or an inadvertent whistle?” (7)
13. Siren – Starts out as a tender acoustic ballad with Bob giving a very heartfelt vocal performance. Once the synth starts to bubble in the background this song picks up steam before exploding into a bombastic track for a few seconds until the strange Tim Tobias-sung sea shanty breaks out during the outro. All of this is accomplished in 1:23. “Your feet are on fire and you run like hell.” (6.5)
14. Henry Loop – Slow, plodding repetitive track with super simple riffs. Henry Loop is the ship’s ghost and he apparently wants his eyes back. “After the swill, you’ll know the drill.” (2)
15. Stiffs on Parade – We get another ghost sighting on this sparse, atmospheric track. This time it’s the ghost of Nicky Highpockets of Sgt. Disco fame. “Shit birds in the midst, aiming for the eye socket.” (6)
16. The Matter of Being Good – The sleeper track of the album is buried deep on side 2. Starts out as an unassuming acoustic track before suddenly morphing into another gritty Circus Devils stomper. Bob provides some excellent melodies. This track manages to blend Circus Devils spirit with some classic Pollard hooks. “Keep your face straight, it's never too late. Keep your neck tied, not like you haven't tried.” (8.5)
17. Gable’s Ear Wax – Another strong vocal melody from Bob that sounds like it was lifted from classic-era GBV, while the music is undeniably psych-prog Circus Devils. The second straight example of the harmonious marriage of Pollard hooks and Circus Devils fuckery. “You’re burning a candle at both ends. You’re watching my teeth flash light.” (8)
18. End of the Swell – After a rough voyage, it appears the crew has made it out to brighter skies and calmer seas. This is a really nice sub-minute Pollard melody snippet. This album is just full of surprises. “And the world goes sailing on ant the end of the swell.” (7)
19. Safe on a Vegetable – Back to the soft rock zone on this pleasant and appropriate instrumental closer. It leaves little doubt that the crew has survived the haunting voyage and has returned safely to land (and decent food). (5.5)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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chuckrh wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:40 am
Robert sighting in Rolling Stone:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/musi ... d-1033011/

What’s been helpful to me — and it’s kind of funny — but I’m saving a great deal of money by not going to bars.
Good read.

Roughly how many people watched? What did you think of the turnout?
It’s still selling/streaming-on-demand, but it was the biggest-selling concert on Noonchorus.com to date. We’re grateful for such overwhelming support and to have shared the experience with so many fans.

I finally got around to watching the show last night. Started out a bit awkwardly, but once they got going - Holy shit! "Moses on a Snail" was incredible. Doug Gillard fucking killing it on guitar.
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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cortez the killer wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:00 pm
chuckrh wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:40 am
Robert sighting in Rolling Stone:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/musi ... d-1033011/

What’s been helpful to me — and it’s kind of funny — but I’m saving a great deal of money by not going to bars.
Good read.

Roughly how many people watched? What did you think of the turnout?
It’s still selling/streaming-on-demand, but it was the biggest-selling concert on Noonchorus.com to date. We’re grateful for such overwhelming support and to have shared the experience with so many fans.

I finally got around to watching the show last night. Started out a bit awkwardly, but once they got going - Holy shit! "Moses on a Snail" was incredible. Doug Gillard fucking killing it on guitar.
2 more GBV records before the end of the year, haha. He's slowing down in his old age! Doug Gillard always kills on guitar. Amazing player.

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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "To England the Tigers"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Cyclopean Runways"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Hangerman Suits"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Henry Loop"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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COMING SOON:

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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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cortez the killer wrote:
Sat Jul 25, 2020 2:35 pm
COMING SOON:

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God help us. Campaign motto: a car elevator in every garage.

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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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When Machines Attack (2013)

After taking a rare year off in 2012, Circus Devils return with TWO LPs on the same day. And in true Circus Devils fashion, both albums dropped on Halloween. As detailed earlier, Pollard had done this previously, releasing both Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast to Coast Carpet of Love simultaneously in 2007. Whereas Capsized! was a loose and accidental concept album, When Machines Attack was conceived and constructed as one. The release notes for the album do a good job of laying out the basic premise of the story:
On When Machines Attack, the trio delivers a collection of eighteen sonic postcards from a probable future forecasting civilization's approaching doom and the opportunities to cash in. The cast of improbable characters on display includes the "Controller" who introduces the album, along with Johnny Dart, Bad Earthman, Doberman Wasp, The Brain of the Iron Fist, and more. A satisfyingly unsettling listen from top to bottom (or perhaps unsettlingly satisfying?), it's perfect for late-night car trips - driving alone, of course. Keep watching the skies!
The Tobias brothers return to write the music and perform all the instruments, while Bob came up with the lyrics and recorded his vocals over the music in Todd’s home studio, Waterloo Sound. Both Todd and Tim cite When Machines Attack as one of their favorite Circus Devils albums. Reflecting back on the record, Todd offers the following perspective, “When Machines Attack brings to mind the everyday paranoia of the 1950s and early 1960s, when people dealt with the faceless threats of looming nuclear attack and the flying saucer scare, only here the dread has become institutionalized, as we hear expressed in “You’re Not a Police Car.” The guy pictured on the album cover is doing his part to resist. He’s not waiting for news and instruction from the authorities. He knows the invisible enemy has already gained a firm foothold in his world.”
This is an interesting album. I didn’t like it the first time I heard it and it took several listens for me to really warm up to it. The arrangements are dense and a bit unsettling the first few times you hear them. Having the context provided by Todd certainly helped matters and enabled me to appreciate the reasons behind some of the more non-traditional sounds and structures on some of the tracks. And, like Capsized!, it maintains its strength and focus throughout, particularly on the mid-album run of the title track through “We’re Going Inside the Head (Of a Winner).”

1. Beyond the Sky – The “Controller” sets the tone for the LP on this trippy, ominous sci-fi snippet. The aliens have landed! “Your headphones are ready…” (7)
2. You’re Not a Police Car – Things get chaotic rather quickly. All sorts of shit going on here – demons screaming, glass shattering, drums pounding, a demented synth. Pandemonium has been unleashed on one of the wildest Circus Devils tracks ever. “I don't have to be paranoid when you pull up from behind. 'Cus you're not a police car.” (6)
3. Bad Earthman – More ominous pulsating synth, howls, whistles, crashing cymbals and assorted noises. Disorienting to say the least. “Having gone in the wrong direction, having settled like so much dust, I walk into segregated lots.” (5)
4. Idiot Tree – While still maintaining that chaotic cacophonous vibe, we get what might be considered the “hit” of the record. Todd gets creative with the rhythm on this track, using a down-tuned electric guitar in a never-ending loop, with Tim providing a scratchy, distorted guitar. Love the part when Bob deadpans, “I don’t” in response to wanting an idiot tree. “Red light, green light flashing on a dark night, faster than a man can see.” (8)
5. Arrival at Low Volume Submarine – The evil machines are descending on planet Earth and no one can detect them. Great work by Todd putting the deep freeze in terms of tempo on this track. Bob does a fantastic job accompanying the music with a slow, drawn-out vocal delivery. You can hear the machines growling in the background. “Oh, it may take weeks and it may take years, but we'll find the source of all human fears.” (5)
6. Craftwork Man – Another one of those tracks that stays true to the disorienting sound and feel of the album, but still manages to be catchy. Todd turns again to the same rhythmic trick utilized on “Idiot Tree.” Sci-fi pop music. “Shit will be lost, I’m tellin’ ya, as will the tools.” (6.5)
7. Blood Dummies – The machines are sizing up the humans. Todd cooking up another demented, repetitive loop to propel the track. Bob with one of the defining moments on the album as he screams out, “God, look at all the blood dummies!” (5)
8. When Machines Attack – Here we go! Some brief fuckery during the intro before we are rewarded with a hard-charging, dirty, Circus Devils-styled stomper. Tempo picks up considerably as those twisted loops are nowhere to be found. Things come to a grinding halt during the outro, courtesy of an icy organ. “Media motors and obstacles trumpeting prices, your company is taking a bath.” (9)
9. Wizard Hat Lost in the Stars – Out of nowhere comes what sounds like a long-lost, mid-fi GBV track from the pre-Propeller era. I mean, the title screams GBV. This sounds like an outtake from the Same Place the Fly Got Smashed sessions. Such a beautiful song. Had it been released on one of the Suitcases, GBV fans would’ve been losing their shit over this song. Instead, it winds up on a Circus Devils concept record about the machines taking over. “How much do you believe in?” (9)
10. Johnny Dart – Love the acoustic riff that kicks this one off. Bob employing a number of vocal stylings. The Tobias brothers whip into an absolute frenzy as this track works its way toward its bombastic conclusion. Might be Todd’s best drum performance on any Pollard-associated song. “Johnny Dart, light as a feather.” (8)
11. We’re Going Inside the Head (Of a Winner) – Next we are treated to a three-part, psych-prog magnum opus. Part one showcases a creaky-sounding Norwegian flute player recording processed through a vocoder. Part two is Circus Devils doing their best attempt at heavy metal with Pollard taking shots at Flaming Lips frontman, Wayne Coyne. The final part is an eerie, cinematic scene at the rural, Midwestern home George and Carol. The invaders are calling them on their disconnected phone. The only track that surpasses the three-minute mark. “Show me your lemon-pledged faith.” (8.5)
12. Brain of the Iron Fist – After a strong four-song run, we move back into that pounding, discordant mode. The machines sound pissed in the background. “At fifty-one dimensions, we're not full circle yet.” (5)
13. Let Us Walk with Monsters – Have the humans given up and allowed the invaders to control and rule them? Starts out with those creepy, cinematic sound effects before Tim Tobias lays down a great guitar line. Bob’s vocal delivery makes it sounds like he has been brainwashed. Some ominous ghostly howls and sniffles conjure a dark, barren wasteland. “Let us walk with monsters - hand in hand, arm in arms, hands in arms, heads in hands.” (7)
14. The Horrified Flower – Hushed, frigid song that conveys a damaged beauty. Bob knocks it out of the park with his vocal performance. Certainly one of the more unique-sounding tracks in the Circus Devils arsenal. “Describe her, and if the description fits then name your price.” (8)
15. Doberman Wasps – What are doberman wasps? They sound terrifying. Tim laying down more dirty guitar work and Todd electing for the drum machine here. Did how Bob tacks on the “pssst-pssst-pssst’s” at the end of singing wasps. “Try looking out your window, try hiding in your sleep.” (5.5)
16. The Lamb Gets Even – At one point it appeared the lamb had surrendered, as he lay down on Broadway. Here, on this molasses-slow instrumental, he has risen again. (3)
17. Centerverse – Circus Devils are done fucking around. Possibly the hardest-rocking thing they’ve ever done. Coming off the chilly, slow instrumental that precedes it, this post-punk/metal hybrid, death march stomper bursts out of the speakers. This is the best Fall song that the Fall never wrote. Tim Tobias’ best guitar work on a Circus Devils record. So fucking good. “Look at the unendless possibilities.” (10)
18. We Shall Soon Discover – The third, and final, use of the rhythmic loop effect utilized by Todd on this album. All sorts of atmospheric droning and sound effects pumped into this one. Some tribal-like chants during the outro. “Life is an automatic golf course.” (5.5)
19. Beyond the Sky (Part 2) – Similar to the opening snippet, creating that bookend effect. However, this time you cannot make out what the “Controller” is saying. He is not speaking any human-based language. Is this a hint that the machines have won and conquered mankind? (6)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Unofficial, fan-made music video for "Johnny Dart"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "We’re Going Inside the Head (Of a Winner)"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Unofficial, fan-made music video for "Let Us Walk with Monsters"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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:shock:
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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:shock: :shock: :shock:
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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My Mind Has Seen the White Trick (2013)

This was originally earmarked to be the debut album of another Pollard side project to be called ESP Ohio. However, once Todd Tobias finished the album and presented it to Bob, they both agreed that it sounded like a Circus Devils record. ESP Ohio was put on hold for another three years, when it actually became a one-off band featuring Pollard, Doug Gillard (guitar), Mark Shue (bass) and Travis Harrison (drums), and My Mind Has Seen the White Trick became the eleventh Circus Devils LP, released simultaneously with When Machines Attack. Pollard intended it to be released under a different moniker in large part due to a shake-up in the creative process. For My Mind Has Seen the White Trick, Pollard came up with the lyrics first, recorded the vocal melodies and then sent them over to Todd to come up with the accompanying music. The intention was to create something completely different than what the Pollard/Tobias partnership had yielded in the past, but the results proved to be more of the same. While each Circus Devils album is a unique, original construction, there is a certain aesthetic that binds them together. And, My Mind Has Seen the White Trick certainly fits that aesthetic. There is no discernible theme or concept that guides or shapes this album. And in some ways, I think the record suffers a bit as a result. Circus Devils do a masterful job making the listener feel unsettled or uncomfortable, and when there is a tangible theme to inspire and guide that task, it is easier to get lost in that alternative universe. That said, credit to Bob and Todd for mixing up the formula here. You have to try new things to keep that creative partnership fresh and relevant.

1. Stop Floating – Starts out on an ominous note with Bob semi-passionately rambling in the haze of the cinematic music. “It was just a figure of speech.” (4)
2. It Floors the Jane – A rare Circus Devils song that surpasses the four-minute mark. Starts out sounding like it might be a run-of-the-mill Circus Devils track before receiving a welcome shot in the arm. From there, the song bounces back and forth between the quiet-loud dynamic. This is a great haunting, moody rocker that fits the Circus Devils well. “Discovering the window is insect flavored, I'm wasted away.” (9)
3. Bird Zone – In a catalog with many, many songs, this is one of the more unique ones. That yacht rock keyboard line that comes in just after the one-minute mark is something else. So are those video game-like synth stabs during the outro. How Todd cooked up this oddball arrangement is a mystery. At first I thought it was pretty cheesy, but with repeated listens I’ve decided it is genius. “Success is a gas when leaving the Earth.” (7)
4. Deliver Ice Cream (You Must) – Tim Tobias gives this a sleazy feel with his lead guitar work. According to Todd Tobias, he had Blue Oyster Cult in mind when coming up with the music for this track. 70s hard rock, Circus Devils style. “Of course he will copulate in most uncertain areas and wandering, the cowardly wolf.” (7)
5. Mine – From sleazy rocker to ethereal, psychedelic song. This trippy journey takes the listener on a trip through some Pollardian dream. “I have a report - a shanghaied moon's monopoly who gave you the fire.” (5.5)
6. Great Orphan – A much more straightforward Pollard/Tobias song that sounds like a leftover from the Pollard solo album, Moses on a Snail. The Pollard song generator seems to borrow from past efforts. From a Compound Eye gave us “Flowering Orphan”; When Machines Attack produced “The Horrified Flower”; and here we have “Great Orphan.” “Facing the cost of living, great orphan are you giving a shot at forgiving?” (7)
7. Android Dust – Starts out with a post-punk-styled guitar line. Pollard transitions between several different vocal stylings throughout. Song eventually builds into more of a prog rock type of track, with all the accoutrements one has come to expect from a Circus Devils song. “Do your work singing, you will like it.” (6)
8. We’d Be Alright – Music sounds a bit like something from one of those 70s game shows. This one kind of spins in place. “Coffee breath like Panama City.” (4)
9. Subway to Human Nature – Starts out more atmospheric, bringing to mind 2005’s Five, before transitioning into something more moody, haunting and menacing, like all good Circus Devils songs do. Just cracks the three-minute mark, but is one of those songs that feels like a stretched-out prog epic. Pollard is the master of packing so much into a short period of time. “We're making breakfast food for hungry nuns, dog meat de-boned to dust. Come in, get stoned with us.” (8)
10. Locomotion Blue Note – Some great guitar blasts from Tim Tobias over a Middle Eastern-styled arrangement. At the 1:13 mark, the song abruptly transforms into something entirely else for approximately twenty-five seconds before regaining its original footing. “I am a blue boy with layers of crust. I'm still clearing out a dangerous path.” (7)
11. It Is Not Necessary – Post-punk meets Eastern-styled music on this interesting track. Todd works in all sorts of synth splashes, but steers clear of the typical harsh, creepy shadings he typically utilizes on Circus Devils songs. It’s here where you can kind of hear a conscious effort on his part to do something different. “A day late and a penny short, got his eye back, but couldn't see the court. What was in the coroner's report? (6)
12. Eddie’s Derangement – Back to that soft rock/yacht rock zone that Todd has explored a bit more of lately. Except he juxtaposes it against some unconventional percussion. “What have we here? A blanket of real wolf skin; an Eskimo's rotten tooth; a season of vomit.” (6.5)
13. Strained Ligature – This one cross-fades in from the previous track. Atmospheric, ambient synth arrangement from Todd, complete with those dark, icy blasts of spacescape imagery he has utilized in the past. “I'm afraid to go high.” (4)
14. Peculiar Smells – It sounds like Todd was inspired by music from a children’s show and decided to put a layer of Circus Devils creepy atmospherics on top of it to give it an odd, unsettling feel. If that was his intention, he absolutely succeeded. “Wasn't that an amazing funeral?” (5)
15. Skyclops – Beginning sounds like we’ve found ourselves back in the horror-filled world of Mother Skinny’s lair. Some stabs of a cheesy-sounding Casio keyboard worked into a sinister groove. Bob’s vocals are double-tracked on top of each other on the repetitive outro. “Punched in the face of adversity, but don't leak a grunt.” (5)
16. Lice – Shortest track on the album with a title referencing those itchy bugs that love to set up shop on our noggin. This one sort of meanders for me. “Hey, they're on my sides. Hey, they're in my ears. Hey, they're out of line. Hey, they're in my fears.” (4)
17. Wizard – A classic Circus Devils stomper to close the album. Love that guitar tone Todd achieves here. It starts out pretty straightforward and then Todd lets the monsters out of the box and turns the track into a bit of a mini horror film before it fades into the night. “Insinuate an olive branch in the path of destruction.” (8)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Escape (2014)

In the wake of two albums in 2013, Pollard and the Tobias brothers were back for their thirteenth Circus Devils LP. As is their modus operandi, Escape sounds nothing like the album that precedes it. In fact, it sounds little to nothing like the dozen records in its wake. After a brief shift in the creative process on My Mind Has Seen the White Trick, the band returns to the tried and true formula of the Tobias brothers creating their musical landscapes for Bob to later add his original vocals. One notable change is Tim’s use of an effects box called “Holy Stain” to add some extra reverb to his guitar sound. The release notes do a good job of concisely providing the overall mood of the record:
On their thirteenth full-length album Escape, Circus Devils take a break from their brash psychedelic rock to gear down with a collection of acoustic ballads; friendly, lo-fi pop; and murky, otherworldly mood pieces. Once again, the trio delivers a mu-sical Twilight Zone where dream time and real time intermingle. For best results, listen late at night with headphones in a dark room.
Todd Tobias offers some additional perspective on the project, “Escape is an album out of phase with time. The year might be 1969. Or it might be 2039. If the escape sought here is not a bodily one, then it’s an escape of the mind, toward that place where the dissonances that underlie our lives and keep us secretly frightened and trapped can be left behind. The point of all this is to keep ourselves in practice. We’re preparing for liberation. Like the band in the basement that practices for the big time, we all practice for the big escape – the final escape that comes at the end of our sojourn in the field of time.” On Escape, with the exception of a few tracks that kick off side two, the harsh, discordant sounds the band has come to be associated with are largely absent. The album showcases a stark and mellow side the band has rarely shown. It is incredible to hear how much the band has transformed since their 2001 debut, Ringworm Interiors. On that record, the instrumental songs were described by Todd as the “soundtrack to monsters giving birth.” The arrangements were so harsh that Bob did not even attempt to add vocals to them, so they ended up as instrumentals on the LP. Escape contains five instrumentals, of which none have any resemblance to what Todd describes. I have read that Escape was originally intended to be the final Circus Devils album. This ended up not being the case, but the overall vibe and lyrical content certainly support that claim. For over a decade, Circus Devils carved out their own brand of abrasive psych-prog. Escape shows that they are also capable of making gentle, nuanced music just as well.

1. Thin Escape – Like most opening tracks on Circus Devils records do, this does a good job of setting the tone for what is to follow. Listed as an instrumental, this fifty-five second snippet recycles lyrics from a later track on the album, “The Result of a Smiling Man.” The perfect ethereal track to kick things off. (6)
2. The Big Strong Sea – Dreamy, delicate and atmospheric acoustic track. Two tracks in, it’s apparent that this is unlike anything Circus Devils have done to this point. Complete 180 degree turn from their typical fare. “What separates you and me?” (6)
3. Eye Mask of Leaves – Abrupt stylistic shift as we are rewarded with what sounds like a long, lost GBV song. Classic lo-fi garage pop song that would’ve been a top track on any of the reunion albums. One of the three songs here where the music was recorded on a 4-track cassette. “You can send an S.O.S. from the pockets of your sleeves.” (9)
4. To Be So Welcome – Warbled, swirling organ drone as Pollard delivers some speak-sing lyrics. “A fishbowl on my head, don't lose your grip or the little fish will be dead.” (6)
5. Animals Are Alarm Clocks – Back to that Nick Drake-like acoustic zone conjured on “The Big Strong Sea.” As I mentioned previously, it’s a bit unsettling to hear Circus Devils produce these airy, elegantly-arranged songs. “Bellboy fast and pencil hard.” (6.5)
6. Demons of the Purple Subway – It’s a shame Bob passed on providing any lyrics to this one, as it is a really interesting instrumental piece. Bob’s melodies would’ve raised this to another level. (6.5)
7. Hacking at a Hedge – Cross-fades in from the previous instrumental. Bob back to speak-singing, with some added effects to his voice, going on about hacking a hedge. “Red thing in a spider cloud.” (5)
8. They’re Not Real Honey – Second of the three tracks to be recorded on a 4-track, this sounds like something off one of the solo Pollard albums. The added spooky synth effects bring it into the Circus Devils realm a bit, but this is a creamy, straightforward pop song that borders on easy listening. “In a dream sequence, I saw a dozen scenes burning deep, revealing the impostors.” (8)
9. The Gravity Test – Sparse, demo-sounding acoustic track with some reverb added to Bob’s voice. “Time and out, before the dirt, force your arms into the shirt.” (4)
10. Play Alice – The first side concludes with another hushed instrumental. This one has a bit of a haunting effect, as the acoustic guitar and organ play well off each other. (6)
11. Bouncing of the Dolls – Side 2 opens up with what sounds more like a Circus Devils song. Tim’s new effects box on full display here, with its reverb giving the track an unsettling feel. Things take a sinister turn with a menacing synth blast at the 1:27 mark. The serene vibe has been stomped on by the stickmen from the woods. “From the woods come the stickmen, glue and varnished, tarnished and blue.” (6.5)
12. The Night of Anything – The nightmare continues on this track. Bob plays the role of radio pitchman, hawking products against the sounds of someone playing with the dial on some old radio. “Get Fucking Real. Get Fucking Smart. Get Costume Comes Alive.” (7)
13. Bouncing of the Heads – The hostile takeover is in full effect. Earlier we had dolls bouncing. Now it’s the heads that are doing so. Not sure how this track manages to hold it together for 1:43, but it barely does. Harsh, discordant and grating like the most menacing Circus Devils tracks sound. “Sorry kids, the cartoon is over.” (4)
14. Draw a Flag – A lo-fi instrumental track to cleanse the palate from the nightmare fuel that was just ingested, it cross-fades into the next song. (5)
15. Eat at Eat – Bob sounds like all the energy has been drained out of him. Such a stark, all-is-lost kind of vibe conjured up on this song. The lo-fi music coupled with the muffled vocals helps amplify that mood – cold, dark and hopeless. “Gimme that. Gimme that!” (7.5)
16. I Am Looking – We’ve survived the nightmare and the morning’s first light is shining through again. This is essentially another calming instrumental, with Pollard simply adding a handful of “I am looking” lines. (4)
17. The Result of a Smiling Man – The third, and final, of the 4-track recordings also has the feel of a GBV or solo Pollard song. The acoustic guitar line does bring to mind 2009’s Gringo. This is a really nice song that I wish went a little longer. “Attracts and creates sensation.” (8)
18. Diamond Boys – The tempo is slowed way the fuck down on this sparse, somber acoustic song. Those weary vocals from “Eat at Eat” are back. Bob sounds like he is about to breakdown and let all that sadness flow. The most melancholic song in the Circus Devils discography. This song into the closing instrumental title track would’ve been such a perfect way for Circus Devils to say farewell. “As quickly as a rainbow comes, it disappears. But caught inside a diamond, it can live a million years.” (8.5)
19. Escape – A beautiful instrumental to bring it all to a close. Starts out sounding like more Nick Drake-inspired, early-70s acoustic folk before getting some synth blasts and studio dressing from Todd. Again, would have been a helluva way to go out. (6)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Thin Escape"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "The Night of Anything"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Unofficial, fan-made video for "Draw a Flag"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Stomping Grounds (2015)

After putting the GBV reunion out to pasture the previous year, Pollard had no intention on slowing down in 2015. In addition to a fourth installment of his Suitcase series (Captain Kangaroo Won the War), a solo record (Faulty Superheroes), three LPs with new side project Ricked Wicky (I Sell the Circus, King Heavy Metal & Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair), Bob, Todd and Tim were back with a Halloween release for the thirteenth Circus Devils album, Stomping Grounds. Following the subtle, gentle vibe of Escape, Bob and the Tobias brothers decided it was time to rock. Like all their album covers do, the menacing monkey with the gun cocked and loaded does a great job setting the tone for what's inside. The release notes concisely lay out what the record is all about:
Stomping Grounds, the new full-length from Ohio-based Circus Devils, blasts off with a full side of brash, catchy rock 'n' roll featuring the vocal bravado of Robert Pollard at full tilt. The album's flipside detours into more psychedelic territory, offering a mixture of weird and pretty vignettes.

Themes include the wasteland of regimented work-ruled living, sexually active geezers, lost girls, sick doctors and impressionistic recollections of the stomping grounds of boyhood. The album closes with the standout track "Sunflower Wildman (Remember Him?)," an anthemic prog-rock story song about a shut-in with dementia who chases boys away from his sunflower-choked yard.

Stomping Grounds is high listening adventure, more exciting than 90% of the movies you will see this year.
The first side is very riff-heavy with Tim Tobias’ guitar featured prominently, while side two takes a detour into the more cinematic, nightmarish soundscape territory that is the band’s stock-in-trade. Nestled in these two worlds, are a pair of excellent songs that don’t fit either characterization – “Girl in Space” and “The Liquid Observer.” Taking a less-is-more approach, Todd does a masterful job with the production here. In terms of accessibility and strength of songs, I would say it’s a toss-up between this and Gringo as to which album I would recommend to someone looking to explore the world of Circus Devils for the first time.

1. Schedules of the Dead – Riffs right out of the gate on this early-70s-styled swagger rocker. A complete departure from the sound and mood on Escape. Circus Devils are bringing the rock. “Great bird in a rib cage with nowhere to fly.” (7.5)
2. Seeds of the Craft – Similar snarl to several of the tracks on the Pollard/Tobias solo collaboration, Standard Gargoyle Decisions. Guitar possesses a dizzying, grungy tone with Bob screaming the lyrics over the ruckus. “The seeds of the craft are born to the sunflower king and his newborn children.” (6)
3. Cold Joker – Leave it to Circus Devils to pen a track about a horny old dude in a retirement home. Super catchy rocker featuring more tasty riffs from Tim Tobias and thunderous drums from Todd Tobias. According to Todd this song is “Circus Devils’ answer to Alice Cooper’s ‘Cold Ethel’.” “Hot smoker, reads Bram Stoker out loud.” (9)
4. Hue An’ Dye – Title is a clever wordplay on ‘you and I.’ Slow burning guitar tone and tempo not dissimilar to some of the more shoegazey effects Neil Young delves in on songs like “Cortez the Killer” and “Slip Away.” Plus, falsetto Bob! Add another arrow to the ever-expanding Circus Devils quiver. “You of amber hue, a heart dyed blue.” (7)
5. I’m Going In – Super crunchy and squeaky riffs with plenty of fuzz effect featured on this track. Circus Devils continue to bring the cock rock. “It is not as bad as it seems.” (6)
6. Weed World – Starts out as a sludgy, druggy, slow-as-molasses track before kicking into hyperdrive. Comes back into the mud before making another attempt to ramp it up before giving out. Bob provides some demented-sounding vocals. First track of the album where you say to yourself, “Yup, Circus Devils.” “Weed world is growing very strangely...” (5)
7. A Bumbling Reply – Todd cooks up a hypnotic groove on this twisted song. Coming off the heels of “Weed World” and into this track, we are now entering the strange realm of Circus Devils. All sorts of ominous flourishes sprinkled in to add another layer of haunting oddness like all good, original Circus Devils do. “I'm up too late, two hot dogs on my plate.” (7)
8. Girl in Space – We interrupt this Circus Devils album to bring you the latest solo Pollard single. Actually, one of two first-ever 7’’ singles released by Circus Devils. This is a pretty straightforward, catchy Pollard pop gem. Some distortion added to Bob’s voice early on before giving way to some clean, effect-free melodies. Nobody loves songs about space and flying like Robert Pollard. “She was girl in space and she went gone.” (8)
9. Wise Man’s Lament – Creepy, ominous song that sounds like it was recorded in a Transylvanian bat cave to conclude side one. Sparse, spooky track that would’ve fit in well on many of those previous haunting Circus Devils records, but, oddly, sounds a bit out of place here. Another addition for your Halloween playlist. “I don't know...” (4)
10. Dr. Pompous – Side two starts off completely different than side one. Your favorite creators of bizarre, horror soundtracks have returned. Plenty of those demented clowns giggling in the background. Intro sounds like a demented remake of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Another essential track for your October 31st mix. Pure Circus Devils genius. “Doctor Pompous, yes you are quick, death of a yes man laying it on thick.” (8)
11. Sunflower Wildman – First of two songs titled “Sunflower Wildman.” Bob plays up the fake British accent and delivers some great melodic vocals on this haunting piano ballad. Todd adds the perfect atmospheric synth swells to accompany the ivory. “Race for a pause to the greatest lost cause.” (7)
12. Stomping Grounds – Those slow burning, dreamy guitars are back for the title track. Things get a bit more sludgy and druggy than they did on “Hue An’ Dye” on this barbiturate-infused, slow stomper. Bob delivering the vocals in an almost slur-like manner. “A show of idiot strength, all too familiar streets.” (5)
13. All the Rage – Todd incorporates the old, demented Circus Devils music box as Bob stretches his vocals over the arrangement. The bridge features some sinister chanting from Bob before we get what sounds like crickets chirping and the return of some “soundtrack to monsters giving birth” sound effects. (5)
14. Where Hornsby Used to Live – Who’s Hornsby? Bruce? Another hypnotic groove, this time accomplished mostly by some clever use of synthesizers by Todd. Some tribal percussion and chant-like singing from Bob are the signatures to this track. “Loud and proud with Vodka in his cloud.” (7.5)
15. The Liquid Observer – After a heavy application of guitar riffs on side one, followed by a foray back into the weird world of Circus Devils psych-prog on side two, Bob, Todd and Tim move back to that mellow zone they mined heavily on Escape. This is a beautiful track with Bob’s second all-falsetto vocal delivery. This song just gets better with each additional listen. “In liquid tranquility, the gift is real.” (9)
16. Sunflower Wildman (Remember Him?) – The second use of “Sunflower Wildman” in a song title on the closing track. Another dialed-down, gorgeous song, this is one of my all-time favorite Circus Devils songs. It all comes together here – a stunning musical arrangement from Todd and Tim and a first-rate vocal performance by Pollard. The closing monologue from Bob about how the neighborhood kids would ride bikes over to the Sunflower Wildman’s house and sneak in to the yard to pick sunflowers, and be subsequently chased by the reclusive old man is sheer brilliance and one of my favorite Pollard moments, period. “Rumor has it that now, some forty years later, the entire east section of that old neighborhood is to be the site of a new Target.” (10)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Seeds of the Craft"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Hue an' Dye"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "The Liquid Observer"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Laughs Last (2017)

Nothing lasts forever. On February 24, 2017 Circus Devils released their fourteenth and final studio recording, Laughs Last, along with a best-of, career-spanning double LP, Laughs Best: The Kids Eat It Up. This was not only the last Circus Devils record, but also the final time Pollard and Todd Tobias worked together, ending a steady, fifteen-year partnership that began with Todd producing and engineering Guided By Voices’ Universal Truths and Cycles. The release notes for the final album are as follows:
On Laughs Last, Pollard and the Tobias brothers take a breathless romp through multiple styles, starting off with the brash hotdogger, "Get Out Of My Way When I'm In Town." Along the way we're treated to the R.E.M. inflected "I Do the Nixon," the organ-fuzz stomper "Teenage Rooster," and the defiantly conventional "Crucified by The British Press." Full of high humor and low drama, Laughs Last is the bold exclamation point at the end of Circus Devils' 16-year run.
There is no unifying theme or concept that shapes Laughs Last. It does do a solid job of showcasing many of the varying styles and arrangements the band explored over their sixteen-year existence. Todd Tobias explains the genesis of the album, “My first work on Laughs Last was to flesh out a pair of guitar tracks from Tim, which became the songs “Farm Action” and “To Each His Zone (Sunshine Baby Butt).” As soon as I heard Tim’s guitar, the finished arrangements appeared in my head, so I went to work doing my best to approximate what I imagined. Inspired by the breezy, pastoral quality of these two pieces from Tim, I wrote some guitar-based tracks on my own with a similar laid-back mood, a couple which made it onto the album as “Do the Nixon” and “Crucified by the British Press.” When I think of Laughs Last I think of those four friendly songs, though the album is full of far-flung styles, sometimes veering into rock and roll exotics on “Teenage Rooster,” Philosophy Bag,” and “Aerial Photographs from Alcatraz.” And just like that, Pollard’s “side project” spanning sixteen years and fourteen LPs faded into the abyss, leaving its 2237 fans devastated.

1. Get Out of My Way When I’m in Town – A touch of menace on this mostly bouncy opening track. Those squeaky bouncing sound effects can grate on you after a while. It sounds like Todd took a classic-sounding Pollard song and transformed it into a Circus Devils song with all sorts of studio bells and whistles. “Children love to win with striking force.” (4.5)
2. Philosophy Bag – Demented Circus Devils stomper that even features some cowbell. Kitchen sink approach on this track. Like the opening track, lots of repeating the song title throughout. “No man ever drowned in his own sweat.” (5.5)
3. Zx35 Pow – Just Bob singing with Tim Tobias noodling on the guitar, playing around with some fuzz pedal effects. “Circus Devils love you.” (5)
4. Teenage Rooster – Track open with some video game-like synth sounds before the thump comes in. Todd works up a good grove on this post punk-tinged song. “Well you know the stork delivered a dork.” (7)
5. Alice Cooper Alarm Clock – Cool title, but not the most appealing instrumental snippet. More along the lines of those “monsters giving birth” but not as interesting. (2)
6. End of the World Ice Cream – Cross-fades in from the previous snippet and immediately gets more interesting. We were previously informed “Deliver Ice Cream (You Must)” on My Mind Has Seen the White Trick. When it was the end of the world as we knew it, was it the ice cream that had Michael Stipe feeling fine? “Make it sweet and sappy, lay it on real thick.” (6)
7. Do the Nixon – As has been the case on several Circus Devils albums now, Bob and the Tobias brothers sneak a pop “hit” on there. Creamy Pollard at its finest, with some clever lines regarding a couple of presidents and other cultural figures like Gil Scott Heron and Mick Jagger. The next time he performs this live, Bob’s gotta add a line about Trump. “I do the Jagger and I clap my hands twice before blazing across the street.” (10)
8. Smoke Machine – Following the album’s “hit,” we get the most interesting song on the LP, and perhaps one of the more interesting tracks in the Circus Devils catalog. This is arena rock, Circus Devils style. It possesses a bit of that lo-to-mid-fi quality that many of those excellent mid/late-90s GBV songs do. It actually sounds like an outtake from excellent Lexo and the Leapers EP, Ask Them. The call and response double-tracked Bob vocals are gold. The Tobias brothers really work things into a frenzy as the song moves along. “Come back to me. Save me.” (10)
9. Time Trapper – Wobbly, frigid acoustic song that falls somewhere between solo Pollard and a Suitcase track. Abrupt transition from the previous rocker, but still adhering to that 4-track, mid-fi spirit. “Where am I?” (6)
10. Crucified by the British Press – Another acoustic track, this one a little more fleshed out, with an uptick in fidelity. Is Bob providing some insight to how his former band was received across the pond? “Occasionally atmospheric. Chops, licks, chords and cryptic lyrics.” (7)
11. Mr. Detail’s Explanation – After back-to-back acoustic tracks, things switch back to one that is a kindred spirit to the types of songs Pollard was cranking out in the mid-90s with GBV. Has that lunging/lurching feel that several of those old songs possess. Some really cool fuzz guitar supplied by Tim. “My time, my soil.” (8)
12. Farm Action – Soft rock Circus Devils return. Follows the path paved on previous songs like “Legendary Breakfast Code,” “Plate of Scales,” ”Safe on a Vegetable” and “Diamond Boys.” Todd steps back and allows the song to speak for itself. No trace of Circus Devils to be found here. “Just like your eggs and ham, you’ll have them anywhere.” (6.5)
13. Into Gear – Dizzying piano and clickety-clack percussion on what sounds like the soundtrack to a movie scene. Todd brings Circus Devils back to the surrealist zone they have occupied so well. However, this one is a bit uneventful. “To all of us…” (4)
14. Cockroach Whiskey – Bob once sang about “Bad Whiskey” on his 1999 solo LP, Waved Out. Here on this sparse, acoustic track that sounds like an Escape outtake he takes it up another notch and incorporates those dreaded insects into the beverage. All sorts of spook on this one before Todd adds a blast of Circus Devils fuckery at the very end. “How do you feel, Dave?” (6)
15. To Each His Zone (Sunshine Baby Butt) – Another creative and playful title from Pollard as Circus Devils head back to the warm, soothing sounds of their soft rock arsenal. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but for a band known for harsh, nightmare soundscapes, they do a really good job with these kinds of arrangements. “You’re not the sunshine baby, but I’m not a weatherman.” (7.5)
16. Aerial Photographs from Alcatraz (Including “Nightmare Parade”) – Starts out sounding like a more unhinged, sinister Santana. This song conjured visions of a tribal sacrifice, which is sort of Circus Devils’ comfort zone. About halfway through, the song transitions to the “Nightmare Parade” which connects to the more horror-tinged albums like Ringworm Interiors and Mother Skinny. (6)
17. Asteroid – Cold, chilly organ swells as Circus Devils bid adieu. I feel like I’m floating weightless in space when I listen to this song, which I suppose is the intention. Without going over the top, an apropos way to conclude the final Circus Devils album. “The lights are burning out behind and ahead of me.” (8)
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Official music video for "Time Trapper"
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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And so concludes Circus Devils.
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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For the four or five people paying attention, where to next? The Takeovers? Lifeguards? Ricked Wicky?
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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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cortez the killer wrote:
Sat Aug 08, 2020 12:40 pm
For the four or five people paying attention, where to next? The Takeovers? Lifeguards? Ricked Wicky?
Ricked Wicky

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Re: Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard

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Thanks for doing this. It's fun to read.

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