Reasons why Guided By Voices' new Universal Truths and Cycles (due June 18) will be called a "return to form" or some such: Because it's filled with the kind of let-it-blurt blasts of verse-chorus-next! they turned into pop art on 1994's Bee Thousand and 1995's Alien Lanes. (The 36-second "Wire Greyhounds" is the shortest Who-Cheap Trick-R.E.M. mix tape ever.) Because the song titles sound like a handful of words picked at random ("Christian Animation Torch Carriers," "Father Sgt. Christmas Card" and so on), and probably were, reminiscent of Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand and, oh, pretty much every one of the band's 13 studio albums, save for 1999's Do the Collapse and last year's Isolation Drills. Because it's being released on Matador Records, after a two-album stint on TVT, the label that rescued GBV from Ohio obscurity and front man Bob Pollard from his former day job, teaching fourth grade. (Allowing more time for his favorite pastime, drinking Bud Light, or, if the mood strikes, Budweiser -- Bud Heavy, in GBV parlance.) Because they recorded it themselves, low-key and fairly lo-fi, after experimenting with rock producers Ric Ocasek and Rob Schnapf on the last two efforts. Because people (read: music critics) are lazy. Pollard's already done their job for them, referring to Universal Truths and Cycles as Alien Lanes-meets-Isolation Drills as often as possible. Actually, can't say it much better than that.
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Reasons why calling Universal Truths and Cycles a return to form is not technically accurate, and beside the point, at any rate: Because it's scruffy at the edges, but shiny in the middle, not so much a rejection of the studied studio slickness of Isolation Drills and (especially) Do the Collapse as it is a refinement, taking the parts that work and shit-canning the rest. Because it sounds more like Isolation Drills than Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand; hidden among those nonsensical song titles is an album just as personal and passionate as Isolation Drills, lightened up, slightly, by the fact it wasn't recorded in the middle of a divorce. (Among the remnants that remain: "Does it hurt you, to love, I mean?" he asks on "Storm Vibrations," sort of a somber sequel to Isolation Drills' "The Brides Have Hit Glass.") Because the strings and things are still there, continuing Pollard's clever complication of his prog-pop songs. (Not a surprise: "I want the whole next album to kind of be like 'The Enemy,'" Pollard said last April, referring to one of Isolation Drills' highlights.) Because it doesn't matter who releases Pollard's songs, what titles he gives them, how they're recorded or anything else: He's a mountain of melody that no one's been able to climb higher than the tree line yet. And the peak gets higher with each album.