Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Do The Collapse

TVT

Guided By Voices sound better than they ever have before. The question is: Is that a good thing? Leader Robert Pollard and his ever-changing group of sidemen have, over the course of ten albums and numerous EPs and side projects, made their name as lo-fi purveyors of psychedelia and Beatles-influenced pop music. Following positive critical response to 1994’s Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes the following year, Under the Bushes, Under the Stars in 1996 and 1997’s Mag Earwhig improved the band’s sonic palette considerably. But for their latest, they’ve enlisted ex-Car Ric Ocasek to bring an even more polished and perhaps more focused approach to the proceedings.

Gone are the thirty-second hissy-sounding basement four track recordings liberally sprinkled through previous efforts. The songs, none shorter than 1:08, are all fully realized in a multi-track studio. The guitar work by Pollard and Doug Gillard has punch (and even a few guitar solos that go somewhere and contribute to the songs). Occasionally, an Ocasek touch will creep in (the new wavey keyboards and guitar sound on “Teenage FBI”). But generally, he sticks to the basics and crafts a solid sound. A few songs even use a string section to good effect (“Dragons Awake,” “Wrecking Now”). “Hold On Hope” ups the ante with an Oasis-like, string-enhanced build. Pollard’s voice sounds a bit like Tim Finn (former Split Enz leader and brother of Neil) on the song. It could be the best track GBV has produced in their prolific career.

The GBV sound of old surfaces a bit with the distorted vocals of “Zoo Pie.” And Pollard’s lyrics remain as impenetrable as ever. A sample: “Predator skin an orangutan alive/ I have two eyes/ Sprinkle the pearls over the ham.” Huh?

The improved sound quality allows really good songs like “Teenage FBI,” “Things I Will Keep” and “Surgical Focus” to come alive and even rescues a few sub-par workouts. But it almost seems like it was more fun when you had to pick through the unlistenable crap to find a few diamonds in the rough on previous GBV albums (a “Tractor Rape Chain,” say). Ultimately, they’ve come up with a much better album, but some of that thrill of discovery is gone.

TVT Records, 23 East 4th St., Third Floor, New York, NY 10003; http:www.tvtrecords.com

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