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Bob Mehr

Guided By Voices
Earthquake Glue
Matador Records

Assessing Guided By Voices' recent discography quickly becomes an exercise in parenthetical asides. From 1999's Do The Collapse (The Major Label Compromise) to 2001's Isolation Drills (The Divorce Album) to last year's Universal Truths And Cycles (The Return To Roots Record), the band's music has been affected, if occasionally fraught, by the influence of outside forces. Meanwhile, Bob Pollard's lyrics have gone from recondite to revelatory. For those who cared to simply read the lines (not even between them), references to the celestial, UT&C brimmed with religious imagery, its final sounds that of Pollard cooing the words "God bless you" over and over again, were unmistakable. While not a full Dylan-style Christian conversion (that would require the Holy Trinity reconstituted to include the Beatles and Budweiser), it was ample evidence of Pollard's reflective post-divorce, post-9/11 state of mind. Coming in at the end of this period, Earthquake Glue gracefully sidesteps such history by pursuing a decidedly different tack. Opener "My Kind Of Soldier" and album centerpiece "The Best Of Jill Hives" are products of a newfound less-is-more aesthetic, one that favors melodic finery over big-chord, big-beat bombast. (Notably, the drums and guitar are toned down, with Pollard's vocals emerging as the most prominent instrument in the mix.) Whereas previous efforts found Pollard hiding his hurt among billowy anthems, Earthquake lays it all bare with a series of subtle-yet-satisfying stylistic gambits, including bits of atmospheric instrumentation (harmonica, horns, etc.). Aside from a few fleeting moments of watery prog and lumpen rock, the album's 15 songs have a slow-growing charm and understated grace, something that gradually becomes powerful in its own right. At least in terms of spirit, Earthquake Glue genuinely feels like an old-school GBV platter, the kind Pollard hasn't been willing, or perhaps able, to make since 1996's Under The Bushes Under The Stars. Given its modest intentions, Earthquake won't shake up the pop world, or cause more than a tremor in indie-rock circle, but it shouldn't be mistaken as a minor work, either.