The (good) usual

While Tobin Sprout has had only sporadic output since he left Guided by Voices, it is clear that he is still inextricably linked to that sound. This album, his first in seven years, is a bit of a ramble. There are fresh recordings of old songs (the lead/title track, which was apparently intended for Guided by Voices way back when--and sounds like it) and newer ruminative pieces.

Tobin Sprout
The Universe and Me

All of this is to say that fans of GbV and Spout generally will be pleased with this album. Really pleased, I think, as some of the stuff here sounds like actual demos (in the finest GbV tradition), and most of it has a comfy ragtag coating. There's nothing earth-shattering, and Sprout doesn't sound interested in breaking new ground. Fine by me. To take a metaphor way too far, he's got one hell of a fertile plot to till.

There's probably a bigger question in why Sprout's songs are so distinctive and so obviously "better" than 99% of the GbV garagey wannabes. I think part of his secret is in what he leaves undone. Sprout's voice is wildly imperfect, and he's not too fastidious about either the performances or sound. But still, he seems to be a master of walking the line between charmingly messy and unbearably sloppy. I guess it's instinct . . . or something.

In any case, that inner pilot is still serving him exceptionally well on this generous set. Guided by Voices was/is known more for quantity than quality (witness the new GbV double album), and Sprout's albums, infrequent as they may be, are equally generous. Some songs soar more than others, but there's no filler. Just a loping jaunt through the world of Tobin Sprout. Always a fine place to visit.

Jon Worley

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