Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Circus Devils: Ringworm Interiors (2001)

Released on Halloween 2001 was the first album by the Circus Devils. The band consists of Robert Pollard's vocals over Tim Tobias' guitar, and Todd Tobias' "Instrumentation & Noises". Picking individual tracks for my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set is extremely difficult with Circus Devils releases, mainly because these songs are often so different than Pollard's other work. I've decided to keep anything too "out there" off my playlist. However, Ringworm Interiors is meant to be listened to (and experienced) as an album, so even though many songs would be out of place on a mix, they add to the overall texture of the album. This album rocks overall, as it is like being at a rock concert on Mars...on Halloween...

The first track, Devilspeak, is probably the best clue that this album is going to different, and special. It is an instrumental which would fit nicely as an intro to any scary movie, and also helps explain the Halloween release date. And then the guitars kick in on Feel Try Fury, a song in which rocks as good as anything in the GBV catalog (for about thirty seconds anyway). The song's lyrics in their entirety: "Feel try fury/Try it, man/Blow up head/Feel try fury/Do it, man/Say it/What can be said?/Feel it". Two songs in and you know we are in darker territory than usual.

Buffalo Spiders is full of odd noises, and what sounds like a child singing halfway through (eerie). It starts off good enough, and maybe the experimentation gets in the way a bit here. This may be a good place to point out how I will choose Circus Devils tracks for my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist; songs like Buffalo Spiders which are fairly decent, yet are simply way out there (jarring noises that will scare the shit out of me while I'm driving, for example) are not going to make the playlist.

World 3 is an instrumental which reminds me of the cheap sci-fi movies of the 80's. Blanks is balls-out rock n' roll from Mars, as is Ringworm Interiors, which may be the best track on the disc. The two songs are separated on the disc by North Morning Silver Trip, a sixteen second horror interlude. Spectacle continues the trend of jarring, heavy noise and experimentation, and You First slows things down as it is the first breather moment on the disc. This is one of those tracks that gets better with every listen, and can easily exist on its own, or as part of the album, so I'm putting it on the list.

Knifesong is a decent little ditty which highlights some screeching static, and a cool, pumping base riff. Kingdom of Teeth manages to be mostly unlistenable with its high pitched noise (though c'mon, what a cool title). Oil Birds is straight-out creepy, with haunting piano (I can almost hear the "one-two he's coming for you" kids singing in the background). Lizard Food sounds like the sequel to Devilspeak, except with Robert Pollard screaming "this is a test!" amongst the insanity.

After another trippy interlude (Not So Fast), things slow down again with Apparent The Red Angus. I read somewhere (an Amazon review?) saying that Circus Devils is like "The Who on Halloween" or something to that effect. This may be most evident in Apparent The Red Angus, a brutally good tune. By the way, does anything else think that Pollard does his best Eddie Vedder on many Circus Devil's tracks? I find this to be the case especially on Pinball Mars' Are You Out With Me. Moving on, Playhouse Hostage provides forty more seconds of relaxation before the heavy begins again with Straps Hold Up The Jaw. This is another surprisingly rocking track with surreal lyrics ("it's earwhigs in the carpets waving at the astronauts").

On an album like Ringworm Interiors, its hard to stand out, so plainer tracks like Correcto simply extend the album's theme and never expand it. These types of songs are just bridges between the highlights (the Feel Try Fury and Apparent The Red Angus types). Star Peppered Wheatgerm is in the same category; a song that would stand out on any other album, but is forgettable on Ringworm Interiors. It does, however, pick up a little during the last half of the track. Silver Eyeballs has been getting better after every listen, and I really like Pollard's lyrical work on this one ("win some & lose some/stick with the stun gun").

After another interesting interlude (Decathalon), one of my least favorite Pollard songs, Peace Needle, makes its appearance. I really can not stand whatever that "music" is playing in the background. Though I appreciate the spaciness aspect of the tune, and Pollard's admirable attempt to sing a beautiful melody on top of the music, I just can not in any way get past the background music. It really is too bad, because Pollard has layered a gorgeous song on top of Tobias' annoying tune.

Drill Sgt. Soul is a continuation of the horror movie instrumentals which began with Devilspeak, though it is far more disjointed and dissonant, and plain hard to listen to. You see, I must admit, I do most of my GBV-related listening while driving in my car. Therefore, songs like this really stand-out as unlistenable during morning rush-hour traffic. Protect Thy Interests sounds like an experiment in sound performed on the n-th layer of hell. Let's Go Back To Bed is the longest track on Ringworm Interiors (clocking in at just over a whopping 3 minutes!). It is also one of the weirdest, and would be a great closer for one of my GBV mix CDs.
Other than having a wicked title, Sterility Megaplant is simply unlistenable noise for an entire minute and a half. New You (I Can See and Believe) is another heavy track which I have not been warming up to, even with its imitation live stadium sound (with cheering fans and everything). Last (but in no way least) is the wonderful Circus Devils Theme which for some reasons brings to mind a fake movie title "Christmas With the Gremlins".

Ringworm Interiors is a great album overall, as long as it is listened to the whole way through. There are a couple of completely unlistenable moments, but a personal edit of this disc would make for a great album. The disc is arranged so that every third or fourth song is extremely rocking, and the middle parts are part of the journy to the "landmarks". Don't let the fact that I only selected 8 out of the 28 tracks for my playlist throw you off, it is just that Circus Devil's is a completely different animal than GBV...a really big animal, likely with horns all over it, and eating a bear for breakfast.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):

01 Devilspeak
02 Feel Try Fury
03 Buffalo Spiders
04 World 3
05 Blanks
06 North Morning Silver Trip
07 Ringworm Interiors
08 Spectacle
09 You First
10 Knife Song
11 Kingdom of Teeth
12 Oil Birds
13 Lizard Food
14 Not So Fast
15 Apparent the Red Angus
16 Playhouse Hostage
17 Straps Hold Up the Jaw
18 Correcto
19 Star Peppered Wheatgerm
20 Silver Eyeballs
21 Decathalon
22 Peace Needle
23 Drill Sgt. Soul
24 Protect Thy Interests
25 Let's Go Back to Bed
26 Sterility Megaplant
27 New You (You Can See and Believe)
28 Circus Devils Theme

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