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The Broken Face
Issue #16
By Nick Bensen

Circus Devils
The Harold Pig Memorial
#25 in the Fading Captain Series

This Guided by Voices-related band features Robert Pollard (vocals), Tim Tobias (guitar) and Todd Tobias (instrumentation, noises and production). In spite of the grim subject matter of this concept album, the overall result is more accessible and less pointedly experimental than the first Circus Devils CD Ringworm Interiors. Bob Pollard usually makes the most of collaborations beyond his main band. The Harold Pig Memorial is certainly no exception, emphasizing the positives from his solo career and recent Guided by Voices, while leaving plenty of room for the Tobias brothers to showcase their musical ideas.

The Harold Pig Memorial opens with a delicate plaintive piano melody (reprised at the end of the CD) before the main mournful vocal part of "Alaska To Burning Men" begins. The Tobias brothers set the perfect tension behind Pollard's vocals with a mixture of acoustic and subtle fuzz guitars. "Saved Herself, Shaved Herself" starts out as a quiet ballad and becomes more progressive and dynamic. The cheerful acoustic guitars and tricky percussion of "Soldiers Of June" have the feeling of mid-80s XTC, with a bit of Eastern modality added in. "I Guess I Needed That", "Dirty World News", "Do You Feel Legal?" and "Discussions In the Cave" each recall the tough head-nodding rock of "Hot Freaks" from Bee Thousand in their own ways. There is an unusual combination of sinister and serene atmospheres on tracks such as "Festival Of Death", "May We See The Hostage?" and "Injured?". Stretching for a comparison, it would be fair to say these songs have an effect similar to the! quiet yet dramatic passages from The Wall by Pink Floyd or Berlin by Lou Reed. "Foxhead Delivery", "Bull Spears" and "Vegas" rock really hard and boast great melodies. "Last Punk Standing" seems to consist of two different intertwined songs - one extrapolated from the album's main piano theme and the other a mid-tempo rocker. "Recirculated Hearse", "Pigs Can't Hide" and "Tulip Review" pit Pollard's spoken poetry against intriguing noisy backdrops. "Exoskeleton Motorcade" is the Circus Devils' answer to Rage Against The Machine and, in one short minute, it beats the hell out of the watered-down Rage/Soundgarden hybrid Audio Slave. "The Pilot's Crucifixion/Indian Oil" shows off Bob Pollard's acknowledged early Peter Gabriel influence with dark ambience and elegant dissonance.

Splitting the musical duties, with Tim and Todd Tobias concentrating on the instruments and Bob Pollard focusing on the vocals, results in bringing out the most inventive aspects of each. The Harold Pig Memorial succeeds as a concept album and a collection of individual tracks; the songs stand on their own to relieve the somber weight of the whole. I enjoy just about anything these musicians are involved in but this CD strikes me as a particularly strong achievement. For more information, check www.gbv.com. To order, go to www.lunamusic.net.