erasing clouds

Guided by Voices, Universal Truths and Cycles

reviewed by Dave heaton

Last year's Guided By Voices album, Isolation Drills, was perhaps their most confident album yet, and definitely their sonically fullest--a collection of majestic arena-rock that hit emotional peaks while fulfilling band captain Robert Pollard's long-stated dream of making GBV's music bigger and more radio-friendly. A little less than half of their new album, Universal Truths and Cycles, continues that path, though with less slick production. These songs, both snappy pop rockers like "Back to the Lake" and intense, building songs like "Christian Animation Torch Carriers," have the same inviting openness and Who-ish energy that Isolation Drills had. Some of those songs even push that sound forward in new directions, as with "Pretty Bombs," a string-laden ballad where the string interlude is allowed to take over from the guitars more than ever before, to lovely effect.

The other half of Universal Truths and Cycles is more of a step backwards, like slightly more heavy-metal versions of the shorter, stranger songs that rounded out Pollard's solo albums or GBV's early 7"s. Some of these songs are refreshing, but some seem too much like Pollard's backtracking, reverting to less hi-fi recording techniques and downplaying the catchy hooks in an effort not to lose the band's older fans. This seems especially true of songs like "Skin Parade," where the production seems really lackluster, with a tinny, narrow sound. The other thing missing here is the near-magical sense of cohesion that made GBV's best albums so great. Here, the songs just don't flow together as smoothly as they should.

All in all, though, Universal Truths and Cycles is another fine showcase of Pollard's amazing songwriting abilities, with some songs that'll stand right next to his best work. My favorite is the title track, a quick pop-rocker which has the same hopeful feeling in its melody as some of my favorite underrated GBV songs, like "June Salutes You!" or "158 Years of Beautiful Sex". Though to my ears not quite as exciting as most of their albums, and not nearly as adventurous as the two stunning albums that Pollard made earlier this year (Airport 5's Life Starts Here and Go Back Snowball's Calling Zero), it's still a solid rockrecord from one of America's best bands.


Issue 10, July 2002 | next article

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