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September 2004
By G. R.

Guided By Voices
Half Smiles of the Decomposed
Matador Records
Itís sad but true: Robert Pollard is disbanding Guided By Voices after almost two decades as the guiding light of that arty rock ensemble. No one ever thought Pollard would give it up. Through a dizzying series of lineup changes, the prolific front man and songwriter persevered, turning in some of the best indie licks to come out of Dayton, Ohio, this side of the Pixies. GbV was nudged toward the mainstream with 1994ís Bee Thousand, but the earlier and dreamier lo-fi stuff is archived on two collections, Suitcase and Box.

Pollard saved the best for last. With Half Smiles of the Decomposed, GbV is back scrabbling through the Pollard-turned earth for nuggets of irony and slimy worms of cynicism. Last yearís Earthquake Glue showed GbV at the top of its game, and Half Smiles is in the same league.

"Everybody Thinks Iím a Raincloud (When Iím Not Looking)" kicks off the collection as a beautiful poem to pessimism, an open wound salved by melody. Prettiness pops up too, on "Window of My World," but, as in a lot of Pollardís stuff, the sugar is mixed with the salt of loneliness. The dense arrangements are deep, intelligent, and burnished to a rich glow. But Pollardís sensibilities as a singer and songwriter always shine through. While quitting at the top of your game is always a classy move, listening to this prompts an uncomplicated response. As Pollard sings on "Smothering and Coaching," "Baby, donít go, weíll miss you so much."