Todd Tobias – Medicine Show

Todd Tobias - Medicine Show

Todd Tobias - Medicine Show

The name Todd Tobias probably isn’t a name familiar to you unless you are a very keen fan of prolific Indie mavericks Guided By Voices. Since 2002, when he produced GBV’s Universal Truths And Cycles album Tobias has assisted the band in pursuing their single mindedly idiosyncratic visions, and while they perhaps exist on the boundaries of obscurity GBV have, over the years, made some very listenable music. I need to declare an interest of sorts here: almost nine years ago I heard “Cheyenne”, the single released from the Universal Truths And Cycles album and few tracks I’ve ever heard affected me quite as profoundly as that particular song did right then, with its nerve jangling guitar riff and Robert Pollards eloquently tortured vocal. As soon as I found out who the band were and where the song had originated from I immediately rushed to my nearest megastore and demanded a copy of what was, had anyone asked me, album of the year 2003.

So when I received the press release for Medicine Show I will admit to feeling slightly nostalgic in recalling an overcast Sunday evening all of nine years ago when one of the greatest guitar riffs I ever heard crackled out of a now long lost analogue radio, bringing with it an air of medium wave mystery and introducing me to the work of some of the US indie world’s quite genuine mavericks. Just one of those moments, but only certain bands can really create those moments, and now in 2012, the producer of Universal Truths… and everything GBV has done since – Todd Tobias – presents us with an album of instrumentals that are as disturbingly captivating and downright twisted as anything Guided By Voices ever released.

A theme of sorts runs through Medicine Show: there is, according to my interpretation of the track titles, a story to tell, involving characters with names such as Clubfoot and Manatoc whose shadowy confrontations are left to the listeners imagination, and Todd Tobias provides more than ample musical backdrop to the images of primitive technologies that the track titles convey. Starting with “Night Of The Clubfoot” Tobias presents us some of the trademark twisted chord changes that anyone familiar with GBV will recognise instantly while the instrumentation holds the subtlest hints of foreboding and hidden challenge. Next track “Manatoc Is Born”, a sequence of keyboard glissandos that are suddenly broken apart by some thunderous effects that go some way towards conjuring a very different world to the one most of us inhabit, a pre-human wilderness of shambling creatures living lives of remorseless brutality. If this is starting to make Medicine Show resemble the soundtrack of some xBox dinosaur game then take it from me, it’d make for a good one if that was ever released. As the album progresses the music reveals a constantly building tension that can only end in some catastrophe or other, and track titles such as “Pre-Dawn Visitation” and “Shadows With Teeth” really do start to resemble the chapters of a fantasy novel.

If I’ve any actual criticism it’s that the album really could use some acoustic instrumentation to bring some added contrasts to Tobias’s almost entirely electronic soundscapes. Call an album Medicine Show and some music buffs might expect something very different to this 15 track exercise in edgy atmospherics and controlled noise, but it’s tribute to Todd Tobias’s skill as a producer and arranger that the pace never slackens and that he’s quite effectively produced the audio equivalent of a graphic novel, one that will keep you listening right up until its cataclysmic final moments.