Lo-fi legend and pioneer, Tobin Sprout returns with yet another release, The Universe and Me. At the age of 61, Sprout’s passion for art remains as it was in his beginnings, if not stronger now than ever. His claim to fame with his works with Guided by Voices, and the influence he had on their iconic sound, paved him a path of artistic nobility that rings throughout many scenes. The Universe and Me is much like his visual art in that it is a mixed media of sounds; it blends his attributed sound of lo-fidelity, and pop/rock, slow/fast, clean/noisy, happy/sad, and melodic/chaotic tracks. The album is riddled with elements of youthfulness, but contrasted by Sprout’s aged perfection of multiple aesthetics. The tonality, melody, and pace varies with each track, giving The Universe and Me a relatable ebb and flow of the ups and downs of a person’s perception throughout life.
The first track “Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow” has a lively and nostalgic sound, resembling noisy and upbeat Guided by Voices’ tracks of their early years. The pure energy of the song makes it difficult to believe that Sprout has hit his 60’s. It is a testament to his innate ability to create emotion-triggering melodies with his lo-fi techniques, structure of whimsical choruses, and proper use of frequencies. “When I Was a Boy” features a cleaner sound with prominent vocals backed by strings and the piano. The feel of this song is exactly what the title implies; a melancholy, yet comforting recollection of childhood. The lyrics are simple, Sprout reflects on the underlying inner child that was, and is, still learning to be their own person. It is a clear example of Sprout’s vast stylistic sense, and with that he is able to create complex mental and emotional states with simple sonic structures.
The Universe and Me exemplifies Sprout’s importance not just in Guided by Voices or his solo material, but in music as a whole. It lays out a spreadsheet of his personal nuances that he has developed throughout his career, and makes it easier to see how his talents have played their role in projects he appeared in, and their effect on others influenced by them. The album is bittersweet, in that Sprout pushes his youthful spirit through a filter of nostalgia: violins, piano, and poignant vocal melodies, a style that has been passed down through the ages, and pressed with Sprout’s personal sonic stamp. A capricious flipping of the poles that contain his musical spectrum, The Universe and Me is contemporary of both 20 and 61 years old Tobin Sprout.