Illustration from the Canadian Homes of Masonry catalog, 1952
As a Guided By Voices fan in the '90s, I don't ever remember thinking, "Robert Pollard's music could use a couple additional elements - I'd go with percussive samples from a Halloween sound-effects LP and cheap-sounding keyboards." But Pollard moves in mysterious ways, so we have Circus Devils, his "dark psychedelia" side project with multi-instrumentalist/producer Todd Tobias. It's the one Pollard project I don't follow obsessively, but I'll buy a Circus Devils LP if the early buzz indicates that it leans away from the freaky carnival vibe in favor of catchier fare. As a result, I own about half of the Circus Devils records, but I'm in no real rush to chase down the others.
I'm pleased to say, though, that Capsized! stands out among the Circus Devils releases. Not in that soft-rock-alter-ego way that 2009's Gringo did, but by sticking to the standard formula with superior results. It does help that the album boasts three strong ballads ("Legendary Breakfast Code", "Plate of Scales", "End of the Swell") as well as a couple straightforward rockers like "Cyclopean Runways" and "Gable's Ear Wax". The weirder numbers are almost as compelling this time around, too - the spooky spoken-word "Vampire Playing a Red Piano" and the ambient album opener "To England the Tigers" are standouts, but nothing on the record is as grating as some of the stuff on earlier records like Ringworm Interiors and Ataxia. It's not going to end up among my top three Pollard releases of 2011, but it may be the most surprisingly pleasing.
"Cyclopean Runways" by Circus Devils