Todd Tobias: Medicine Show
The question of whether or not art should be enjoyable arises often, usually escaping from the mind of a dumb person. The answer is a resounding no, if of course you can accept that the question itself isn’t a paradox. On Medicine Show, Todd Tobias goes to great heights to prove that he is not one of those dumb people. From the creepy album art to the bizarre album title, Tobias does not exactly take the bright and cheery route. Beyond the superficial aspects, the music itself is similarly dark and horrifying. But frankly, I would be a bit more accepting if the music offered anything to be appreciated amid the doom and gloom. The intrigue that surrounds the superficial aesthetic of the album ‒ the nightmarishly-named songs like “Shadows with Teeth” and “Fanfare of the Impalers,” the grinning monster on the cover ‒ is lost in the album’s highly repetitive, clunky music. Tobias throws 16 different, short songs at us, yet each one still somehow manages to sound like it belongs on Saw IX’s soundtrack.
Musical experimentation can be a truly fascinating experience, as it brings the listener into the artist’s mind, leaving the artist’s choices unadulterated and uninhibited. Yet on Tobias’s record, there’s still a sense of distance. Each quick song gives the sense of someone throwing junk at the wall in hopes that something will stick. There’s no indication of a laborious effort to perfect each little song. Because of this, there are really no distinguishing moments on the album and there’s nothing that begs to be returned to. The rushed, incomplete nature of it keeps it from even being an experimental record that can at least be admired without really being enjoyed. There are occasional musical choices thrown in that attempt to elevate each song from the last monotonous one, like the bubble sounds in “Night of the Club Foot” and the wind featured in “Shadows with Teeth,” but they end up feeling like cheap add-ons. The percussive, quick tempo of “Flesh Interval” is almost reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Little By Little” from The King of Limbs, which means it’s one of the better songs on the album. “Medicine Show,” the title track, sounds simply clunky and unpleasant for the sake of being unpleasant. On the album’s closer, “Prayers to A Blind Sky,” Tobias seems to relax a bit, and there appears to be an overdue moment of lucidity. The song actually develops and loses the unpleasantly frenetic pace of earlier songs.
But in the end, the album feels shapeless. Its maker sets out to instill a sense of atmosphere and darkness but amid the admittedly successful labor to do so, the quality of the music is lost. Instead you’re left with a ragged mix of indistinct sounds. While I and many other listeners have the patience for experimental and dark music, I can’t say I have the patience for lazy and dull music.
MP3: Todd Tobias “Prayers to a Blind Sky”
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Todd Tobias: Medicine Show