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Song You Need to Know: Tobin Sprout, 'The Man I Used to Know'

’s new song is kind of a downer — in the best possible way. From 1987 to 1997, when Sprout was a songwriter for Guided by Voices, his simple writing stood in contrast to frontman Robert Pollard’s bombast. That same distinctive style is on full display on “The Man I Used to Know,” his new solo single. While Pollard weaves larger than life tales of carnival barkers and otherworldly creatures, Sprout is decidedly terrestrial. His mournful, soft voice intones, “The man I used to know/He’s falling downward/Calling on the world/Goodbye/Goodbye,” against a background of shakers and guitars that just flirt with Dick Dale’s surf rock style. 

Despite the song’s solemnity, there’s something comforting in its stark presentations, Sprout’s unpretentious phrasing — it’s easy to sink into that gentle sadness without drowning. In that way, the track is the perfect aural encapsulation of melancholy: in turns somnambulant, romantic and all-consuming.

“The song is about sometimes losing faith and confidence in yourself,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Feeling lost and not knowing where to turn sometimes. Or looking back at a younger you and realizing how much life has changed you. Falling down and finding your way to get back up.”

Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

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