Up until now, I’d known Tobin Sprout as the member of Guided by Voices who’d written the precocious, sympathetic Bee Thousand album track “Mincer Ray,” wherein, I assert, his voice does sound somewhat different Bob Pollard’s. Now, of course, several things hit me upon me noticing that this is his fourth or so solo album: one, the guy sounds EXACTLY fu**ing like his bandmate, and two, this music is orchestrated with an effortless surety which bespeaks undoubtedly an element of erstwhile accomplishment: he’s hardly a rookie at this sh**.
And sure, it’s power pop all the way, but track two is already so varied from track one that by this point, the listener would have a hard time even conceiving of the possibility of monotony within this album. The guitars are grainy on the slower titled track and climb the soundscape like thorny vines. The guitar solo itself comes, for that matter, with the same rugged sound which is very much a success — it’s like a charming seven year old kid playing guitar, but doing it really well… or rather, it’s like a charming seven year old kid’s voice, full of too much genuineness, full of too much life and of course, doomedness.
Within the realm of the pop/punk proclamation “Walk across the Human Bridge,” a song which starts out very regularly, we get nonetheless a compelling combination of the disarming indie simplicity and zen-informed lack of desire you got with Guided by Voices, with in addition a dark and tense chord progression very much demarcating this as Sprout’s project away from Pollard’s brighter and more anthemic “Tractor Rape Chain” and “I am a Scientist.” The voluminous perkiness of “Walk across a Human Bridge,” though, makes it all the more disarming and great when “Manifest Street” plays as a down number through and through, the guitars seeming to bleed in your hands.
“Honor Guards” provides another surprise: background vocals (don’t know if they’re from Sprout or another band member)… ending way too early, this track still continues the trend of stylistic unpredictability on this album, further eschewing “Walk across the Human Bridge”’s power pop for contemplative chamber pop. By “Heavenly Bones” we’re back to good ol’ “Festival Rock” and THIS is our summer music, kind folks, for America in 2017 — melancholy enough to take into account the entire calamity transpiring on our turf, but still sufficiently conversing with champion rock and roll of the golden era as to peel our faces into smiles and send off the night the right way. By and large, the reflective mellowness of this album is one of the most refreshing things I’ve heard lately.