CIRCUS DEVILS ALBUM REVIEW EXCERPTS
(sorted by album)
"Multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias keeps things primal-n-futuristic while Robert Pollard's lyrics allude to the horrors of the human race in a way both cryptic and imaginative. Much like Gang of Four's attempt to wise us to the consumer world, Circus Devils forewarn of a world consuming us." - Detroit Free Press
"Pollard and Tobias opt for experiment over melody and noise over rhythm."- Bryan Roswell (Coke Machine Glow)
"Five often doesn't feature a single guitar, instead relying on Todd Tobias's trademark aural textures to create moods often bordering on ambient, a new and exciting background for (Robert) Pollard to ply his trade. The new contrast is captivating from the start. FIVE is an album of wonderful aural scope and intelligence, filled with emotion. Whenever Pollard attempts a style of music with which he's unfamiliar, the results are always at worst interesting; here they're nothing short of spectacular." - David Tandy (Music Underwater)
RINGWORM INTERIORS (2001)
"Likely to appeal to music fans interested in extreme rock, or in music which is rooted in rock but which pushes the usual boundaries. This is a psychedelic mindtrip with heavy metal textures melding with non-sequitur lyrics delivered by many means of vocalizing (few of which would be described as "good singing"), and everything's cloaked in more feedback and fuzz than you can imagine. While some of the more direct songs demonstrate that hard rock is at this music's core, this is rock music that's been transformed into something dark and strange. With Ringworm Interiors, my first reaction was to yell "What the hell is this?" and quickly throw it aside. Those who give up too soon, however, miss being taken deep into a unique musical world. It's not a world likely to appeal to mass audiences, but it is an unmistakably distinct one that you won't soon forget."
- Dave Heaton (Erasing Clouds)
"Capsized! doesn't feel like a series of disjointed experiments; it feels like an exciting yet orderly collection. "Cyclopean Runways" and "Hangerman Suits" are typically excellent Pollard pop gems. "Legendary Breakfast Code" is an oddly gentle and affecting tune, one that feels confessional and sweet even though they don't stray from Pollard's usual oddball lyrical tendencies. Elsewhere, the band gets dark and moody to pretty great effect. Two spoken word tracks stand out here: a first for Circus Devils, since this is usually where the wheels come off. "Leave the Knife Curtis" sounds like a moody reimagining of Guided By Voices? "Hot Freaks", and it works nearly as well, while the chilling "Vampire Playing the Red Piano" evokes the same feeling as a Terrence Malick voiceover in all its perplexing, impressionistic wandering." -Matthew Fiander (Popmatters)
PINBALL MARS (2004)
"The soundtrack is one of blood-curdling fancy merry-go-round rides. One wants off, but can't because of what awaits. It's as if an illicit IV has been administered during REM sleep, drawing the listener closer to the protagonists, and further into their shady world. The theme of good and evil has always been the Circus Devils' focus, but here the concept feels different, more human." - Bart Bealmear / Allmusic.com
"Somewhere between the caustic noise of 2001's Ringworm Interiors and the more reined-in, sensitive concept album The Harold Pig Memorial (2002), Pinball Mars often sounds like arena rock anthems after they've been processed by two different mechanisms: one looking to make them into death-metal hymns to Satan, the other trying to discover what would happen if classic rock and free jazz had a baby." - David Heaton / Erasing Clouds
THE HAROLD PIG MEMORIAL (2002)
"Robert Pollard's patented vocal hooks are sprinkled throughout and vicious guitar solos add to the Devils' sweeping sense of barely controlled chaos. The tone of the album remains dark and is again done on a grand soundtrack scale, but whereas Ringworm Interiors had a menacing, unsettling, perhaps David Lynchian feel, The Harold Pig Memorial has a more unifying, often suitably funereal (but still unsettling), musical theme woven throughout." - Karen E. Graves (allmusic.com)
"The album has an epic sweep to it which makes it feel like a journey. While the nonsequitors and genuinely creepy stretches make Circus Devils' music likely too odd for your average music fan, this isn't a hapless "side project" but an intricate, intoxicating epic showcasing a unique, hybrid form of rock."
- Dave Heaton / Erasing Clouds
MOTHER SKINNY (2010)
"Paranoia is the keyword this time. Everywhere people are trying to get you, to put you in a freezer or a cave. There?s an insect lurking, a germ circus "always around" and "eating up the kids." The ominous "We Don?t Need to Know Who You Are" suggests a secret society. "They're always following us / we are all crazy," Pollard sings in the piano ballad "All the Good Ones Are Gone." The music is epic as always, and fierce, with thick heavy metal riffs. If it's a metal album it's also a circus album, like Tom Waits and Black Sabbath meeting in a cavern. Sometimes it seems like Circus Devils are rewriting hard-rock history as being all about giant spiders ("8 Legs to Love You") - but wait, isn't that what it was always about?" -Dave Heaton (Erasing Clouds)
"An obtuse and forgettable submission from Pollard?s outlet of weirdness." -Brady Barker (spectrumculture.com)
"Gringo, the seventh Circus Devils album, follows the group's "formula" in the sense that each record bears little resemblance to those that came before it. The album noticeably leans primarily upon acoustic guitars, minimizing the synth atmospherics and general weirdness that have been among the few Circus Devils trademarks." -Ron Wadlinger (The Agit Reader)
"Gringo is probably the most accessible Circus Devils album, but no less strange or doom-obsessed. At times it resembles a proper pop-rock album, the sort you can sing along to and blare from your car stereo. But still there are puzzles galore, and the album gets weirder the longer or closer that you listen. Gringo is filled with creepy film-score interludes and art-rock grinders, but also pretty and strange acoustic balladry. Rumination turns mystical, often; see "Monkey Head." Like every Circus Devil album, it feels haunted, but those ghosts do less screaming and more gentle creeping and following. And of course, nothing is as it seems. There's a lot to savor and decipher throughout. In "The Beast Falls Down," Pollard sings out loudly, with emotion, over lovely acoustic guitar while singing about your neighbor's gun. With Gringo, you can get lulled into comfort, but then you'll be stabbed in the face." -Dave Heaton (Erasing CLouds)
"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 from 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." - Indieville.com
"The whole listen is one frustrating attempt to either validate the music on a cerebral level, find the tacky antics funny, or respect the innovative production (which is the easiest of the three). But when it comes down to it the songs just aren't very good." -David Morris (Strangeglue.com)
"The determinedly annoying Circus Devils' sixth album finds Robert Pollard sounding like a peyote-visionary lumberjack who has wandered into a rehearsal by a 1970s progressive-rock band, then edited the giant jams down into exhilarating two-minute slivers. Ataxia is Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans remade in miniature from pottery fragments and human toenail clippings." - Stewart Lee for The London Sunday Times.
SGT DISCO (2007)
"The first line of "In Your Office" sums up the fifth Circus Devils album Sgt. Disco nicely: "There is beautiful pandemonium." . . . the songs run the gamut from bizarre skeletal sludge topped with psychedelic bits and strange pseudo-poetics to greasy mock grunge rock. Like them or not, you have to respect the Devils' idiosyncratic tenacity and their relentless pursuit of a wild artistic vision. If you're into the eccentric, wedge this one between your Syd Barrett and Frogs CDs and brace yourself for one hell of a trip." - Jason Lymangrover (Allmusic.com)
". . . Shanties, Throbbing Gristle-esque loops and noises, stoner jams and mini-pop-operas all piled like vignettes and miniatures averaging about 90 seconds. But they pile carefully, thoroughly producing a world within each. No lo-fi sketchbooks mastered to CD here." - Boston's Weekly Dig
"It would take a staunch Pollard apologist to excuse this mess." -Josh Modell (Spin)
WHEN MACHINES ATTACK (2013)
"An engaging record that keeps you at arms length as its interesting soundscapes give you a chill." -Christopher ANthony (The Fire Note)
"The worst thing Uncle Bob has done in a good long while." - Greg Locke (Ze Catalist)
MY MIND HAS SEEN THE WHITE TRICK (2013)
This album received no reviews.
Acoustic guitars gently weep over string and woodwind textures that sound like they’re straight out of the Zombies or King Crimson. It’s a very British-inflected record, with Nick Drake, The Moody Blues, and Procol Harum—as well as the aforementioned Zombies and Crimson—all informing the album’s overall vibe. Call it autumnal, call it mellow, call it rainy-day music; however you categorize Escape, it’s new territory for Pollard, at least over an entire album, and it’s an entirely successful experiment. But it wouldn’t be Circus Devils without a few twists and turns along the way.
-Simon Workman (The Fire Note)
STOMPING GROUNDS (2015)
The title of the album is apt. Stomping Grounds combines all the detours and unsettling vibes of the band's extensive back catalog into a collection of tracks that sounds like a summation of all they’ve accomplished so far: the screechy, horror-filled dread of albums like Ringworm Interiors and Five (“Bumbling Reply,” “Wise Man’s Lament”), the sideshow freakiness of Sgt. Disco and My Mind Has Seen The White Trick (“Dr. Pompous,” “Stomping Ground”), the catchy and hook-filled yet unsettling pop of Capsized! and The Harold Pig Memorial (“Seeds Of The Craft,” “Girl In Space”).
Stomping Grounds isn’t just a re-hashing of the Circus Devils sound. It’s yet another chapter in the ongoing narrative of the band, one that uses the past as a foundation for more experimentation and growth. By now, though, it should be clear that Circus Devils isn’t just a Pollard “side project,” but is a band that deserves just as much attention as his other, more high-profile projects. As is usually the case with Circus Devils albums, Stomping Grounds is full of weird, off-kilter brilliance, the perfect soundtrack to long, cold autumn nights.
-Simon Workman (The Fire Note)