By: Circus Devils
Appears on: Stomping Grounds
With an output as tremendous as that of the Guided By Voices catalog, it can become a little overwhelming at times to keep up with all of Robert Pollard’s solo and side projects. I believe it’s totally forgivable to not listen to everything he churns out as soon as it’s released; however, I have to confess that I was extremely tardy to the Circus Devils party. I had heard about them way back in 2003, when the band was playing “Bull Spears” at the live shows, but I guess I just didn’t feel ready at the time to get into them. It wasn’t until Stomping Grounds was released in 2015 that I realized I had ignored this particular side project long enough. As soon as as I started listening, I realized what a fool I had been!
Yes, fourteen albums is a lot for just one of Pollard’s many side projects, but if you haven’t dug into them yet, I’d recommend starting with Stomping Grounds. It’s not all weird psych stuff, as I thought it would be; there are actually many songs that wouldn’t sound too out-of-place on a Guided By Voices record. “Cold Joker” is one of them, and the focus of today’s post.
First, let’s look at the chords needed to play this tune. Mostly standard rock chords, but then there’s this Dmaj7 business. This is a pretty jazzy chord, though definitely not unheard of in a Pollard composition. The voicing listed below for it requires muting the fifth string with whichever finger you’re using the fret the D note on the sixth string.
Figure 1 shows the main guitar riff, which is played as the intro and also during the verse. (I suppose it could actually be argued that there is no intro and that the song begins with a verse that just happens to have no lyrics for the first two iterations of the riff, but let’s not argue). This riff uses a trusty Pollard guitar technique I call the “open string drone.” The open A note on the fifth string rings out over the melody notes played on the fourth string.
The only other part to this song is the chorus, which uses the chords we saw above. During the second chorus (“Darth Vader, soon to be invader…”), the tempo slows down during the Dmaj7 to A5 progression. Other than that, the first and second chorus are the same.