Lo-fi pioneer Tobin Sprout burst back into the indie-verse this month with his sixth solo album. ‘The Universe and Me’ is packed full of all the delightful distortion you could ask for from the former Guided by Voices guitarist and it could not have come at a better time, with the 90s aesthetic having fizzled back into vogue.
Sprout’s sound remains pretty much unchanged, yet still sounds completely fresh. Listening to ‘The Universe and Me’ is like slipping into an old comfy slipper. To an unfamiliar listener, Sprout could be an entirely new, energised, young act. It is his vocals, saturated in wisdom, which give him away.
‘Future Boy Today / Man of Tomorrow’ tears in with a serrated riff that is softened by the surrounding sea of distortion. From that point onwards, Sprout attacks with fusillades of fuzzy nostalgia that settle to form a mental photo collage of memories.
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This retained DIY essence that encumbers the album is inspiring to listeners, both new and old. For one man to have made a life-long career out of homemade-sounding songs reminds you that music is not a luxury reserved for a select few and is accessible to all.
The use of piano in most of the tracks provokes a sense of youthful wonder in its simplicity. Each song plays like a child’s drawings, unlocking a secret alcove of the imagination where grownups can also retreat. Particularly during tracks such as ‘When I Was a Boy’ and the proceeding ‘Cowboy Curtains’, whose titles themselves draw on this idea of regression.
Unfortunately, as times it is hard to distinguish between tracks. Because of this, the album often runs the risk of fading into background noise. However, when you’re not expecting it, a track comes along that sharply pulls your attention away from whatever you’re doing and forces you to listen. ‘I Fall You Fall’ – a track that is philosophically poignant in its simplicity – is one of the stronger examples of one of these redeeming tracks.
‘The Universe and Me’ is further proof of Tobin Sprout’s dedication to his own definitive style. While some may wish to have seen some further progression, others can find comfort in the fact that what you see is what you get with Tobin Sprout, so there is naturally little room for disappointment.