August 27, 2009

Archive CD Review, 2002 - Guided by Voices, "Universal Truths and Cycles"

Guided by Voices
Universal Truths
and Cycles

It's a fact of life – you have to overcome emotional barriers before you can move on. On Guided by Voices' last album, Isolation Drills, bandleader/indie rock poet laureate Bob Pollard, fresh from a failed marriage, relayed his inner turmoil with some of his most revealing and tender songs to date. Now that he's got that off his beer-soaked chest, it's time for this Dayton, Ohio-hailing troupe to return to what they do best: be America's top purveyors of immediate, completely alive rock 'n' roll.

Enter Universal Truths and Cycles, which handily reconciles GBV's lo-fi garage roots with the high-gloss approach they've adopted in recent years. There's the swaggering, noisy "Skin Parade," brief acoustic fugues ("Zap," "The Weeping Bogeyman"), and urgently melodic gems spiked with Pollard's famously obtuse wordplay ("Christian Animation Torch Carriers"). It's hard to pick out a clunker anywhere on this disc; "Cheyenne" annoys at first with Pollard's maudlin falsetto, but then it somehow grows on you.

Similarly, given the consistent quality of these 19 tracks, it's tough to single out highlights, but I submit the anthemic, staccato-riffing "Back to the Lake," the cascading "Storm Vibrations," the scrappy "Everywhere With Helicopter" and "Eureka Signs," a revved-up chunk of resplendence and grit.

For all their singularity, GBV isn't immune to betraying their influences. The folky "Factory of Raw Essentials" sounds like Pollard channeling Gordon Lightfoot, and "Wings of Thorn," with its percussive guitar strumming, could be sandwiched into every future pressing of the Who's Tommy and no one would notice. Nevertheless, as Cycles thrashes and jangles to a close, all that is great about this thing called rock seems gloriously distilled. Grade: A