Guided By Voices - Universal Truths and Cycles
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Recorded the same year as some of Robert Pollard's best work (Choreographed Man Of War, Ringworm Interiors, and Isolation Drills), Universal Truths and Cycles is quite a charming accomplishment. One of the most prolific songwriters in indie rock history, Pollard shows little signs of slipping into rock dinosaur status. However this year, Pollard put out two somewhat dissapointing Fading Captain albums, those being Life Starts Here and Calling Zero. Those collaborations, should have created some remarkable music, but instead they were small affairs, that caught Pollard sounding awkward and tired. After hearing those albums, who would not be scared to hear a new GBV album that has to follow up the powerful Isolation Drills? Thankfully, all is well in Dayton. Guided By Voices have delivered another solid album to add to their extensive catalog.
Opening up with the 35 second rocker, "Wire Greyhounds," Pollard is sounding as confident as ever. The second song, "Skin Parade," starts out intimately with chattering in the distance, like a song off of Suitcase. The song then bursts into a pretty heavy rocker that has a nice full sound.
"Zap" is light and refreshing, with gently strummed guitar and soft percussion. "Christian Animation Torch Carriers" is one of my favorite songs on Universal Truths and Cycles. Begining with an intricate guitar melody courtesy of Doug Gillard, the song eventually picks up steam and power, making full use of its longer running time. I heard this song live a few months ago, and although most of the audience had not heard it before, the crowd was blown away. "Christian Animation Torch Carriers" is destined to be a GBV classic. In the tradition of "Glad Girls" and "Chasing Heather Crazy," "Cheyenne," is the standout pop song on Universal Truths and Cycles. With its soaring vocals, Springsteen-inspired glockenspiel, and trademark Gillard solo, "Cheyenne" is easily accessible and will probably get some radio airplay.
"The Weeping Boogeyman" is slow and sad, and creates the same effect "Frostman" had on Isolation Drills, that being a bit of a breather before the next rocker, "Back To The Lake." "Back To The Lake" is also pretty radio friendly, and accessible. "Love 1" is a return to the much-missed experimental pop filler of Alien Lanes. "Storm Vibrations" begins much like "The Weeping Boogeyman" but explodes into a nice mid-tempo rocker ala "Unspirited" or "The Enemy." "Factory Of Raw Essentials" is quiet and personal, and introduces the incredible "Everywhere With Helicopter." Easily one of the hard rocking songs in their catalog since "Lethargy," off of the Propeller album.
"Everywhere With Helicopter" is the tightest song on the album, capturing the live energy of this line-up. "Pretty Bombs" reminds me of a great song off of Mag Earwig!, "The Finest Joke Is Upon Us." But unlike that song, this song sounds like a battle fought between Guided By Voices and the string quartet, Invert. But for the 30 seconds, the two sides play simultaneously, creating one of the best moments on the album. "Eureka Signs" is a great GBV rock song that would easily fit on Mag Earwig!, and has recently been the opener to their live set. "Wings Of Thorn" and "Car Language" are both steady paced, creating a segue into the last stretch of Universal Truths and Cycles. "From A Voice Plantation" starts off with a booming drum beat, and makes way for Pollard's reverb drench vocals, and an interesting guitar melody.
Like "Zap," "The Ids Are Alright" is short and light, but has a great melodica part that reminds me of the horns in The Cure's "The 13th," off of Wild Mood Swings. "Universal Truths and Cycles," is a pretty love song that captures the same atmosphere as on The Kinks' Face To Face album. The closer, "Father Sgt. Christmas Card," is one of the all-time great closers in the GBV catalog. A lo-fi recorded song, that bursts into full-sounding mid-fi, it is easily a song that would fit on Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand.
By: Sean Wright
Published on: 2003-09-01