Todd Tobias's instrumental debut has some strong moments, but as a whole it plays like a soundtrack without a story.
Todd Tobias has long been associated with Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard. Whether he is producing GBV records, playing all the instruments on Pollard's solo work, or creating oddball pop with Pollard in their band Circus Devils, it's hard to separate the two. So it's a bold move to see Tobias finally strike out on his own with Medicine Show, his instrumental debut album. The sounds on the album create a kind of musical topography. It's got peaks and valleys, rugged textures suppled by skronky guitars and strange synths. From the percussive clatter of "Half Animal" to the moody rumble of "Flesh Interval" to the manic sludge-rock of "Manatoc Enters the City/The Long Fall", the album has a trajectory, a clear and controlled movement through dense fog and clear night air. As it trudges along, though, it does start to feel a little too mechanical, a little too industrial and groaning for its own good, and at some point you start to wonder what the story is behind all this sound. Medicine Show is solid, but ends up being just a bit too dark for its own good, and a bit too murky in its intentions. It's got some strong moments, but as a whole it plays like a soundtrack without a story.