PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

The Circus Devils: The Harold Pig Memorial

Robert Horning

The Circus Devils

The Harold Pig Memorial

Label: The Fading Captain Series
US Release Date: 2002-10-31
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

One of Robert Pollard's many side projects, the Circus Devils is the name for his work with the Tobias brothers, who provide a vaguely arty kind of post-punk musical backdrop for typical blocks of Pollard's abstruse, dadaesque lyrics. The results are reminiscent of the sadly neglected '80s band Slovenly, who brought a similar intricacy and angularity to pop song structures, investing them with unusual chords and atonal textures that sound more accidentally discovered than aggressively chosen. The guitars are rarely distorted, and are occasionally acoustic, complemented by some unobtrusive keyboard playing here and there. At times the Circus Devils toss in some found noises and some sheets of static, but these never seem intended to disorient or startle. Listening to their music is not meant to be some kind of art endurance test, to separate the worthy from the philistines by measuring how much aural assaulting they can withstand.

This particular effort purports to be a concept album revolving around a dead biker, but you are unlikely to figure this out without reading the lyrics, and even then you would have to have a pretty peculiar imagination to come up with that conclusion. While the heavily treated piano playing which begins the album plays like moody soundtrack music, setting the stage for a narrative to unfold, the concept never crystallizes. This is fortunate; it allows The Harold Pig Memorial to circumvent the problem with many concept albums, that the songs become boring the moment you become bored with the story. But that still doesn't mean these particular songs are especially accessible. Initially they seem impenetrable and hookless, with Pollard shouting like Steve Mariott with a sore throat lines like "Discussions in the cave" and "Saved herself, shaved herself" for no apparent reason.

Many songs feature Pollard reading his lines, sometimes reciting them like an exuberant drunk at a poetry reading, other times intoning them like an airport intercom announcer. As is often the case with Pollard's lyrics, their relentless torrent, specific to something largely incomprehensible, is disconcerting and overwhelming. The lyrics actually obscure the music, making it sound more miasmatic than it really is. The only song that embeds itself quickly is "Last Punk Standing", and that may only be because the marginally catchy chorus is repeated six or seven times. But after few acclimating listens, The Harold Pig Memorial's charms begin to surface from the murk. What all sounded the same starts to sound rich and varied; the tempos suddenly seem wisely diversified, the guitar work concise and inventive. Songs that seemed bland and familiar begin to sound old favorites. The anthemic "Foxhead Delivery" and the Grand-Funk-on-quaaludes stomp of "A Birdcage until Further Notice" build to compelling climaxes, while "I Guess I Needed That" and "Bull Spears" chug along with a satisfying Crazy Horse meets SonicYouth groove. While there is little here that will surprise anyone familiar with Pollard's back catalog, there is enough singularity to the material to keep it from feeling entirely redundant.

Like the litterbug who deliberately drops trash to the ground to keep janitors in business, Robert Pollard seems to drop new records with the same intent of keeping critics busy. That is what one might conclude, anyway, from the usual critical perspective on him, that he is too prolific. It's a strange position to take, to abrogate an artist's work because there is too much of it, as though a critic's primary role was to regulate supply curves. It's not only unfair to judge Pollard's work in the context of the ever burgeoning body of his oeuvre, but it stinks of certain record industry shibboleths that are good for their business but not necessarily for accurate critical assessment.

Record companies generally want to extort the maximum value from every release, and don't want to devalue their product by flooding the market with too much of it, particularly from one source. To this end they encourage the idea that the making of a record is a long, difficult, almost mystical process where the carefully selected and elevated artists (the valuable intellectual property of record companies) work in semi-seclusion to produce their masterpieces (incidentally, the recent film Laurel Canyon depicts this same ideology, as the fictional band struggles with their producer to find the magical hit formula. Whether the film embraces of mocks this ideology is open to debate). The last thing the recording industry wants is someone like Robert Pollard, who produces with unpretentious and apparently effortless ease so much consistently good music he makes much of his own catalog superfluous. He gives off the dangerous impression that making interesting rock music is easy, so easy that rock fans might not actually need to buy industry product but might instead make their own with the same sort of casualness. When critics condemn Pollard on the basis of his prolificacy alone, they are, knowingly or not, mouthing the industry's party line.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.