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Slug Magazine
Brian Staker

Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
Matador Records

Freed of the major label albatross that hung around their necks for their last two albums with TVT, this is one of Guided By Voices' best efforts. Robert Pollard's song writing is an ongoing attempt to revitalize rock iconography, make the music real again. But mythic themes get twisted by this warped ex-schoolteacher's imagination. Sometimes his fertile mind comes up with such unexpected lyrical juxtapositions that song titles like "Christian Animation Torch Carriers" and "Father Sgt. Christmas Card" could come off like random streams of consciousness. But like the best surrealists, Pollard has the confidence in his own abilities to make every combination seem inevitable, carry an awesome weight yet seem almost effortless. Without the pressure to crank out a radio hit or sound self-consciously heavy, he's free to concoct inventions like the drunken introduction to "Skin Parade," some of his strongest hooks yet with "Back to the Lake" and "Pretty Bombs," and the stunning orchestral suite within "Factory of Raw Essentials." He can make a line like the latter song's "circular beast exhibit" sound tender and push his voice to even further heights than ever before on "Cheyenne." And the sound of two jets rushing overhead at the end of "Storm Vibrations" recorded before 9/11 sounds utterly prophetic. The band has never sounded more solid than this incarnation, with Doug Gillard's inventive guitar riffs in the forefront. Pollard's titled the album in typically grandiose fashion, but this set is good enough that the band might yet become a universal standard.