steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

Circus Devils

"Ataxia" CD

Happy Jack Rock Records

Genre: experimental rock, lo-fi, rock

Dayton, Ohio

Oct 27, 2008

Since its formation in 2001, Circus Devils has been the weirder outlet for Robert Pollard's musical endeavours. Yes, I realize I'm talking about a man whose "straightforward" songs go by names like "Tractor Rape Chain" and "Squirmish Frontal Room," but if Guided By Voices was strange, Circus Devils is Danny DeVito in a g-string. Uh, yeah.

What often goes unmentioned - particularly in promotional materials - is that Pollard's involvement in Circus Devils is limited to the lyrics. While he pens the words and sings them, longstanding GBV producer Todd Tobias and his brother Tim are responsible for everything else. The result on Ataxia is a uniquely written record that relies on dynamic and structural eclecticism more than it does on melody.

The overall tone of Ataxia is almost Gothic in its dark mystique. Songs seem to bubble up amidst a cauldron of haunting, atmospheric sounds. "Get Me Extra!," for example, emerges out of an uneasy haze of feedback, while opener "Under Review" has to battle a morose drone in order to attain footing. This makes for an intriguing album that is more than a set of songs, but instead a continuing story; this, in turn, frames the record's better songs nicely. Zippy rocker "The Girls Will Make It Happen" succeeds by way of a strange sense of melody, while small acoustic number "He Had All Day" allows a pensive moment of pause. "Stars, Stripes and Crack Pipes," on the other hand, is a blazing rocker that recalls GBV's later work. Other songs seem more about atmosphere than melody; "Hi I'm Martha, How Are You?" is a sinister mood piece, and "I Found the Black Mind" is strangely monastic.

It is difficult to describe Ataxia in a way that would adequately communicate what to expect from it, although that might be considered a good thing. These seventeen songs seem to tell a story, even if considerations like plot and characters aren't present. The nature of the story is unclear, but its twists and turns are best experienced with a relatively clean slate. Although Pollard's role in Circus Devils is not as substantial as his part in GBV or most of its side projects, this intriguing release is worth a look for fans and non-fans alike.

circus devils' myspace


youuuuuuuutube!: "get me extra" video, "eye razors" video (really cool)

Matt Shimmer

[Vitals: 17 tracks, distributed by Rockathon Records, released October 31, 2008]