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July 2002
By Byron Coley

Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
Matador Records

Five For Silver
America's Greatest Magpie Geniuses

Ohio's lo-rent Anglophile pop masters from the birthplace of flight return to their old label and take wing for a new high

There's a beautiful sequence in Wes Anderson's film Rushmore, where the schlumpy protagonist's career is reviewed to the soundtrack of The Creation's Making Time. When Eddie Phillips' guitar starts slashing there are a few seconds where, no matter how familiar you are with the tune, it seems so implausible a Hollywood film would utilize it, that your brain denies that you're hearing The Creation. When the vocals enter and it becomes apparent it is indeed The Creation, the combined sensation of satisfaction and surprise is so sweet it could pass for an epiphany.

Universal Truths and Cycles, the 13th(or so) album by Dayton, Ohio's finest sons, is filled with similar moments. Robert Pollard's songwriting is capable of an effortless mimetic creation that would do Neil Innes proud. A listener almost shorts-out trying to unravel the layers of stylistic borrowing that fills his songs. GBV's guitarist Doug Gillard, has similar talents and proclivities. Since Bob and Doug are also Anglophiles (regardless of their deep roots in the American underground), the references run from pre-glitter Bowie (Skin Parade's intro) to bootleg Roy Harper (The Ids Are Alright), all interspersed with glorious freakbeat readymades.

Untouched by outside producers, Universal Truths..., is not as raw as GBV's earliest efforts, but it seems much closer to their wonderfully chaotic live sound than the last couple of records have. Presumably, they have learned from recent studio experiences without being ruined by them.

GBV remain the paradoxical champs of the subterranean pop-tone forest; turning coal in to diamonds and vice versa. It's always tempting to think their albums don't function all that well as albums, but they bear up to repeated listening so handily that this line of thought is almost evilly vapid. GBV are one of America's most potent virtual Jukeboxes and Universal Truths... is a many-splendoured gas.


Safely back on Matador, do you feel any the wiser for your major label experience?

I was always afraid of going in and working with a producer and we learned how to be comfortable in a big studio, so now we can do it by ourselves. In my opinion we made some good records on TVT, but they didn't have the true GBV stamp on them, which I think this album does. It's back to sounding like the kind of record that we used to make.

Rumour has it you've written about 4,000 songs now; do you worry you'll repeat yourself?

I have to ask people all the time. Have I used this before? Has this been used by someone else? I used to teach fourth-graders at elementary school, so mythology was a recurring theme; elves, robots, gargoyles - the contents of a 10-year old mind, and a lot of airplane and flight imagery, which you can still find there in my music. That's because we come from the birthplace of aviation - Dayton, Ohio.