Guided By Voices

Here is the last Guided By Voices album. Not in the sense of "Here is the previous Guided By Voices album," but in the sense of "final." If it’s true in movies where the voice-over says "You never really appreciate something until it’s gone," and the credits roll, and you leave the theater with little bits of popcorn stuck to your shoes, then you will soon appreciate Guided By Voices. Because following this album and its ensuing tour, the band will be gone. After twenty-odd years, twenty-odd lineups, and twenty-odd albums, EPs, singles, triples, stolen bases, misdemeanor convictions, and broken hearts, Dayton, OH’s fortunate sons are taking leave of your senses.

"This feels like the last album for Guided By Voices," explains Robert Pollard, known to his friends as "Robert Pollard," GBV’s lone constant member, lead singer, and famously prolific songwriter. "I’ve always said that when I make a record that I’m totally satisfied with as befitting a final album, then that will be it. And this is it."

This, entitled 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed' (a line from the album’s terrific second song, "Sleepover Jack"), may well be the strongest set of music the band has ever released for public consumption, but to be honest, we’re a little tired of saying that every time GBV puts out a new record. The truth loses its power of affect with repetition, apparently. There’s only so many times you can play people a song like "Girls Of Wild Strawberries," for instance, drawing attention to its deceptively simple structure, influenced at the same time by both American and British veins of mid-60s chime-pop, pointing out the intricate interweaving guitar lines, the stunning word-play, the vastly melancholic and somehow still uplifting tone, the impeccably tossed-off phrasing, hell, even the stately, plump rhythm section, only to have these same (ordinarily intelligent and open-minded) people whine "I liked their earlier, funnier stuff," before you want to beat your head against the side of Dayton’s Canal Street Tavern. Which is made of brick.

"Some people have said our albums have gotten progressively weaker since, say, 'Under The Bushes, Under The Stars' [Matador, 1995]," says Pollard. "But actually they’re misinterpreting a common human tendency to grow tired of something if it hangs around too long." Now, we’d debate his notion that GBV has hung around too long, especially when there’s so many other, better examples of bands hanging around too long on current display, but we’d rather spend our time explaining, quickly, that Pollard himself is not going to stop writing or recording or touring. Well, maybe touring. He intends to continue as a solo artist: some of you in the audience may be asking how that’s any different from continuing as Guided By Voices, since "we all know" that GBV’s more or less Pollard’s show anyway. If he’s sick of the band, why doesn’t he do what he always does and fire the band, then reconstitute with former members of Skunk and Warthog and The Sweaty Three?
Thing is, he’s not sick of the band, he’s sick of the baggage. "I love the guys in the band, but I’m getting too old to be a gang leader," he explains. "There’s a sense of maturity, and even integrity, I think, in continuing as one’s own self, instead of as a gang — albeit a positive and productive one."

You can hear that maturity, and we’re pretty sure integrity, on 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed,' whose experiments with textures and effects expand on similar moves made by 2003’s 'Earthquake Glue,' possibly due to being recorded with the same producer (Todd Tobias, once again turning in a strong effort. Good job, Todd!). 'HSOTD' occupies a happy mid-point on the recording fidelity spectrum, or would if such a thing existed, and has an easy-going feel that belies its twisty maze of puns and alliterative allusions, nimble guitar lines, and genre-melding song structures. In other words, it’s another dazzling jewel in a catalog studded with equally shiny gems (Did you know Dayton’s nickname is the Gem City? Maybe it’s just a coincidence).

But in Pollard’s view the Guided By Voices experience has become overly-received, in the sense that he feels constricted by the need to deliver an album that sounds like what he thinks we mean when we say, "Here’s the new Guided By Voices album."

Or like he says: "I need to get back to a lack of professionalism where there’s a certain degree of awkwardness. In order for that to happen, I need to become much more actively involved in the studio." Meaning not that he wants to play all the instruments himself, though he could, but that he wants to play with anyone he wants, a whole bunch of different people even, over the course of a particular album, without having to worry about leaving space for a certain number or type of guitar parts or bass lines or what-have-yous. Also: leaving GBV behind, he feels, will allow him to concentrate more on the creative side of things and not concern himself with business aspects like promotion and sticking to a heavy touring schedule.

And we wish him the best of luck. And we can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. And so on. But in the meantime, you actually can hear what he’s come up with next, in the form of 'Half Smiles Of The Decomposed,' the last best shot from a band that has given us nothing but bull’s-eyes for longer than we have deserved. Listen to this: it will never happen again.

Robert Pollard – vocals
Doug Gillard – guitar
Nate Farley – guitar
Chris Slusarenko – bass
Kevin March – drums