erasing clouds

Guided By Voices, Earthquake Glue (Matador Records)

reviewed by dave heaton

Guided By Voices' career sometimes seems like a tug of war between GBV Captain Bob Pollard's desire to make huge-sounding, crowd-pleasing, stadium-filling rock n'roll like his favorite bands of yesteryear and his love for coming up with bizarre, hard-to-get-under artsy experimental rock. It's one thing to like both The Who and Wire, it's another to try to be both of them at the same time. For while 2001's Isolation Drills album seemed like the group's great leap forward towards making gigantic, solid-as-stone arena rock, like the start of the next stage of their career, last year's Universal Truth and Cycles seemed like a reactionary step backwards, an attempt to show that their rock can still be weird. And if Isolation Drills was also the most heart-baring GBV album, Universal Truths… was on the whole one of the most lyrically obscure.

Well, it's a new year, and this year's GBV album finds the perfect place between those extremes. Earthquake Glue is the group's best attempt yet at getting a hold on the many personalities of GBV and merging them into one cohesive sound. It's a gloriously huge rock album that leaves room for eccentricity, that manages to be powerful and melodic, heartfelt and weird, as the best of GBV's "lo-fi" recordings did in their own way. One of the things I've always loved about GBV is how their songs are emotionally affecting even when you have no idea what they're about or when their lyrics on the page read like bizarre surrealist poetry. Being able to rock an audience up, down and sideways is one thing, but touching their hearts and weirding them out while you do it is something else entirely. How many of the young bands that makes up the current "return of rock" can do that?

The album also confirms the impression that Isolation Drills would be a great launching pad for the next stage of GBV. For the most part the songs here sound a lot like the best rockers on Isolation Drills--they have killer hooks and build up in emotionally satisfying ways. Yet there's also hints of almost everything else the group has previously done or expressed an interest in doing. "Dead Cloud" has the weird choppiness and lightly psychedelic vocals of some of the earliest non-album tracks, "The Best of Jill Hives" is a catchy pop song that would have fit snugly on Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, and both "Apology in Advance" and "Secret Star" are Who-like song-stories ready for the concept album Pollard's always daring himself to write.

At this point in time, any new Guided By Voices album will bring forth an army of die-hard fans who are sure their opinion of it is the right one (myself included). Every release is either the best thing the band has ever done or the worst. This despite the fact that your average person on the street has no idea who GBV is. All 14 issues of Erasing Clouds have at least one review of a recording related to Guided By Voices, and I'm sure that won't change anytime soon. But sometimes words seem fruitless, and this is one of those times. Earthquake Glue is one of the best albums I've heard yet by one of my favorite bands of all time. What else is there to say?


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