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The Orlando Sentinel
By Jim Abbott
June 28 2002

Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
Matador Records

5 stars

Speaking of cycles, this new album marks a milepost for prolific, beer-swilling, fortysomething rock star Robert Pollard and his bandmates from Dayton, Ohio. After two albums on major-label TVT produced by hired guns and somewhat conspicuously aimed at the mainstream, Guided by Voices returns with a self-produced effort on independent Matador. Fortunately, the one constant is Pollard's unerring knack for memorable hooks, jangly guitars, ambitious 1960s-style song construction and wonderfully messy garage-band rhythms. That combination penetrated producer Rob Schnapf's more polished studio approach on last year's Isolation Drills, so it's logical that the unvarnished Universal Truths and Cycles exudes more visceral energy. There's an atmosphere of eavesdropping to the offhand introduction to "Skin Parade," with its indistinguishable conversation in the background. In the next moment, the song explodes into a raw, riff-driven two minutes that's as sexy and lean as rock gets. That song yields to the gently rhythmic "Zap," built on Rubber Soul-style acoustic guitar and percussion. There's also a Beatle-esque quality to the layered harmonies and strings that open "Christian Animation Torch Carriers," with its lyrics about faith. An irresistibly melodic guitar introduction on "Cheyenne" perfectly reflects the song's idealistic optimism: "And if an innocent minute lives for the light, the time is right. Define a line to hold back the night -- inside." Even songs that abandon pop convention offer arrangements that artfully balance between anarchy and design. In "Car Language," a cacophony of discordant guitars and insistently pounding drums become an aural traffic jam at odds with Pollard's vaguely metaphysical lyrics. "And the mounting commotion," he sings, "could the driver resist selecting 'simply no' for last legs standing/ Auto-erotic satisfaction." Though Pollard is the creative force, guitarists Doug Gillard and Nate Farley, bassist Tim Tobias and drummer Kevin March are equally adept at ripping through fiery rockers ("Everywhere With Helicopter") or providing subtle touches ("Factory of Raw Essentials"). So even if it's not always easy to tell what Pollard is trying to say, Universal Truths and Cycles is so compelling that there's infinite pleasure in taking the time to find out.