Increasingly responsible for the better bits on recent Guided By Voices albums, Tobin Sprout doesn't quite have the all or nothing genius/madman approach of Robert Pollard but what he does have is consistency. It's very hard to find a bad Tobin Sprout track. They are all sort of enjoyable....possibly because most of them use the same tried and tested formula of lo-fi melodic chord progressions and his reedy voice singing hummable melodies that get stuck in your craw.
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Excuse me while I cackle ominous and witch-like in my triumph of managing to listen to and review this album before Clint could. Tobin Sprout has our eternal kudos as the man who kept Guided by Voices grounded, fixing leaks by adding the stray tune here and there, ensuring a gorgeous melody worked its way into whatever album Robert Pollard was taunting and calling names. He’s the original Lockett Pundt to Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, or Panda Bear to Animal Collective’s Avey Tare -- an indie rock understudy who made sweeter, more reflective songs amidst their co-host’s cacophony.
Tobin Sprout’s had a fair solo career since his part in the classic GbV line-up, and it makes perfect sense weirdo indie rock label Burger would land him for a new record. This record is a breath of fresh air after clogged air vents of Robert Pollard material; Sprout rocks out with his beloved lo-fi production (you’d think he’d be able to afford something a little more up the market by now), takes his time on slow jams and throws out the odd bit of that classic R.E.M. homage too. The overwhelming hook in the chorus for “Future Boy Today / Man of Tomorrow” overrides any suspicions you have about it, before Sprout switches into the pretty and ambling title track, which boasts the kind of pastoral vibe he never got to nail when pinned up with Pollard.
Sprout’s songs sounded concentrated in the GbV context, with “Atom Eyes” and “Awful Bliss” acting as sort of stand-in ballads amidst weirder tunes with attention-span fucked chord sequences. Here, though, you can really hear the dreaminess of Sprout’s music: his melodies sound improvised and his arrangements shambolic, the best bits floating out in the fore, waiting for your view to lock in on them. “Manifest Street” has a wandering bass line that sounds catchy if and when it appears, the notes centering the track scuffed and randomly timed. “Cowboy Curtains” is a mixture of strummed acoustics and whining electric guitar, played at a slow, waltzing speed that you’d never usually hear him expand on.
If you like the way Sprout does things, this is a must, but I also feel a generation of newer listeners will find his sound familiar to all the fuzz bummer rockers they know and love. Sprout makes even the sludge sound golden, dosing his distortion in a melancholy vocal line on the languishing four minute long “I Fall You Fall”. I didn’t expect this record to make me so happy -- I'm glad he mumbled it our way.
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