1996: Tobin Sprout - Carnival Boy

I’ve only seen Tobin Sprout perform once, opening for his former band Guided by Voices on their 2004 farewell tour. Sprout seemed like the polar opposite of Bob Pollard’s notoriously drunken, boisterous crew as he played through a set of solo material alongside some of his contributions to the GBV canon. It’s not just a coincidence that Voices albums began to decline in quality (if not quantity) soon after Sprout left the group following 1996’s Under the Bushes, Under the Stars; Tobin was responsible for some of the band’s best-loved songs, including “A Good Flying Bird,” “Awful Bliss,” and “To Remake the Young Flyer,” and he collaborated with Pollard on many more.

After Under the Bushes’ release in early ’96, Sprout struck out on his own with Carnival Boy, which dropped just a few months later. Not surprisingly, the two records are quite similar – Carnival Boy even reprises Bushes’ “It’s Like Soul Man.” But while Under the Bushes is a 24-song monster, like most Pollard epics, Sprout’s album is comparatively brief – only 14 songs, with minimal filler and quite a few legitimate sing-a-long jams.

Arguably, Carnival Boy is more consistently good than any GBV or Pollard record outside of the immortal Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. If anything, the record is back-heavy, with the stellar trio of “Soul Man,” “Hermit Stew,” and Syd Barrett ode “The Last Man Well Known to Kingpin” closing the deal. “Kingpin,” in particular, is the standout, with layers of Sprouts singing a chorus of “Shangri-La wrecker” so earnestly it sounds meaningful.

It’s impossible to say whether Carnival Boy is so good simply because Sprout doesn’t spread himself as thin as Pollard often does. Regardless, it’s a record often unjustly overlooked by fans of the genre -- a near-perfect nugget of charming ’90s pop from a guy so modest he didn’t even bother to put his name on the front cover.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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