Throughout his recording career,
Robert Pollard has been fortunate to work with some very gifted and talented collaborators,
who took Bob’s demos and created sound beds for Bob to record his vocals over,
such as Tobin Sprout, Doug Gillard, Chris Slusarenko and Todd Tobias.
Among those who worked with Bob, the collaboration between he and Todd Tobias,
which lasted a little over ten years, was a very creative and prolific period for Bob.
The team of Robert Pollard and Todd Tobias created thirty-three albums together,
that’s 17 Robert Pollard solo albums, 14 Circus Devils albums,
which was Bob, Todd and his brother, GBV alumni Tim.
Plus 3 releases by Psycho and the Birds, which is Bob and Todd.
This is not counting the 3 GBV albums Todd produced, various eps,
or the 3 Ricked Wicky albums on which Todd played bass.
I hope I didn’t miss anything.
The Bob/Todd collaboration started when Tim Tobias who, at the time played
bass for GBV, gave Bob a recording his brother Todd had made.
Bob took the recording and added vocals.
That became the first Circus Devils album, “Ringworm Interiors” 2001,
number 15 in the Fading Captain Series.
In 2002 Todd became Guided By Voice’s producer for their next three albums.
Apparently, the recording process for “Fiction Man” and the albums
that would follow with Todd producing is,
Bob would make a boom box recording and send it to Todd,
Todd would create a sound bed, playing all the instruments, in almost all cases.
Then send it to Bob to record vocals over.
The process was different for Circus Devils recordings,
Todd would write and record the music, then send it to Bob.
Then Bob writes lyrics and records vocals to Todd’s finished music track.
In Circus Devils, Tim Tobias also gave Bob tracks to write and sing over.
I always thought of Todd Tobias as a great multi-instrumentalist,
who can deliver that GBV sound, but likes to add weird stuff.
He does weird ambient stuff like Brian Eno,
and will also add rhythmic noise.
In the future as Bob’s solo albums progressed,
Todd lost some of weirder production effects,
which seem to get relegated to Circus Devils albums,
and Bob’s solo albums take on an almost singer/songwriter quality.
But on the first couple of Bob’s solo albums they teamed up on,
things were all over the place.
Bob gift of making great album openers continues with “Run Son Run”,
it could have easily been on a GBV album and probably should have been.
Listen for Todd’s Keith Moon drumming.
The ambient opening of “I Expect A Kill” lulls you into a sense of peace,
till a jagged guitar comes in.
Sort of the formula of a Circus Devils song, Peaceful, then absolute nuts.
I don’t want anyone to think everything Circus Devils does is disturbing;
the band actually produces some beautifully hunting music.
“He Had All Day” and “The Beast Falls Down” are good examples of that,
and “Sea Of Dead” has the same Dreamy Psychedelic feeling.
As I have said many times,
Bob seems to effortlessly write brilliant little ditties like, “Children Come On”,
so why isn’t he in some kind of Song Writers Hall of Fame?
No one holds a candle to Bob.
“The Louis Armstrong of Rock and Roll” would be a great
addition to a GBV live set.
Great Rocker with that heavy GBV rhythm guitar is
apparently, an ode to Pete Jameson ex-Manager For Life.
“Losing Usage” a cool Acoustic/Psych song,
that closes with a GBV sounding electric guitar.
“Built To Improve” is among my favorites,
first Bob is singing with an electric guitar at low volume,
then suddenly, all hell breaks loose.
Todd’s loud distorted guitar thunders through,
then mellows out a little, then it’s back again.
I love the contrast of Bob’s mellow vocals and Todd’s noise.
I don’t have to pull out my vinyl version of this album,
to tell you “Paradise Style” opens up side two.
Bob has a skill for writing songs that are perfect for how he sequences his albums.
This pop/rock gem clocks in at little more than one minute.
“Conspiracy Of Owls” sounds a lot like what Bob would be doing
on future solo albums; more singer/songwriter like.
Though Bob and Todd experiment on “Fiction Man”,
there is plenty to satisfy GBV fans, “It’s Only Natural” could easily
have been a Guided By Voices song, it would be nice to dust it off and play live.
Cool guitar solo!
“Trial Of Affliction And Light Sleeping” is a favorite for its weirdness
that would fit onto a Circus Devils record. Post-Punk Psych.
“Every Word In the World” is a very cool acoustic number.
Starts off as a Bob demo, then blossoms into a full song.
Takes me back to the acoustic beauty of “Kid Marine”,
which the ballad on which “Night Of the Golden Underworld” would
also easily find a home.
Bob somehow knows what makes a great album opener
and closer, “The Biggest Win” has that anthem-like sound
that leaves the album on a high note.
I’ve always considered “Fiction Man” to be Bob’s fourth solo album.
If seems more of a follow up to “Kid Marine”.
Where releases like “Motel Of Fools” and “Choreographed Man of War”,
which were made between “Kid Marine” and “Fiction Man”,
didn’t seem like solo albums, more like side projects.
“Fiction Man” is an excellent album,
the tracks vary in style from song to song.
With the coming break-up of Guided By Voices,
Bob and Todd experiment looking for new sounds,
while sticking to the Four “P’s” Pop, Psych, Prog and Punk,
while adding Post-Punk.
One-man band, producer, engineer Todd Tobias deserves a lot of credit,
for this album and all his work with Bob.