CD Review of Gringo by Circus Devils
Circus Devils: Gringo
Recommended if you like
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Happy Jack Rock Records
Circus Devils: Gringo

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

t would be something of an understatement to call Robert Pollard the most prolific man in music, given his penchant for releasing new albums on what seems to a monthly basis. The fact that he assumes various noms de plume only adds to the flood of familiarity, because at the core of all these projects it’s Pollard’s quirky pop profundity that steers the proceedings. So move over, Ryan Adams; in terms of sheer output, Pollard’s the person to beat.

Of course, Pollard got a running start with Guided by Voices, the left-of-center experimental ensemble that garnered a considerable cult following and set Pollard’s career in motion. Always askew and well astray of conventional pop, they made music that was angular and off-kilter, neither straight pop nor prog, but an unconventional confluence of the two. They set a standard for much of the quirkiness that was to come, but at times, their skewed lo-fi pop approach had even the most ardent fans scratching their heads in bewilderment. He broke up the band in 2004, but ultimately, its demise accelerated rather than deterred Pollard’s productivity. In fact, Pollard’s proved himself to be something of an overachiever; in 2007, he introduced several side projects while also releasing two solo albums (Gargoyle Decisions and Coast to Coast Carpet of Love) simultaneously. Although he hasn’t been quite as prolific – some would say obsessive – since then, he’s still racked up enough new material to keep the faithful happily satiated and to keep his own muse working overtime.

The latest result of this unceasing work ethic is actually the seventh (!) album by his decade-old "other" band, Circus Devils, a group consisting of Pollard and brothers Todd and Tim Tobias, who supply both the musical muscle and the production savvy. The trio’s been through some bizarre twists and turns over the course of their creative evolution, manifest mostly in abstract, semi-psychedelic doodling that’s found consistently solely in the fact that they’ve been difficult to decipher. Gringo streamlines the template somewhat, even offering songs that could be described as amiable and accessible – the subdued acoustic rumination of "Shipped from Prison to Prison," the lilting "Before It Walks," and the wide-eyed pop sentiments of "Every Moment Flame On" being the most notable. Still, anyone thinking the band has entirely abandoned its penchant for weirdness need not worry. As the album meanders through its 16 songs, Pollard and pals plot an unsteady course, from a cosmic call to arms ("Monkey Head") to eerie encounters ("Arizona Blacktop Co.," "Hot Water Wine") and what can only be described as basic stutter and strum ("In Your Hour of Rescue") or psych and sprawl ("Stars Out All Night").

Happily, then, the album ends on a meditative note, via the undulating, atmospheric instrumental "Yellow Cloud." It seems a somewhat unlikely end to these cloudy proceedings, but as Circus Devils are so wont to prove, sideshow antics can be confounding.

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