on universal truths

So such is life that it writes itself
Trying to right itself
But there’s nothing wrong with it
There’s nothing wrong

Guided by Voices has quickly become one of my all-time favorite bands. Bandleader Robert Pollard writes these incredible, timeless pop melodies the way most of us shed hair follicles. Then this middle-aged man, with his scratchy everyman voice somewhere between Michael Stipe and Roger Daltrey, belts out the thing, backed by a band that sounds like it’s about to fall apart, like they’re all playing it despite themselves, like the song is just too strong to stay inside them. Like, imagine if Neutral Milk Hotel‘s Jeff Mangum had grown up listening to the Who instead of reading Anne Frank’s diary – he’d have started a band like GbV.

What sold me was this quote from eMusic’s Greg Milner, in his review of their unanimously-acclaimed album Bee Thousand: “Put it this way: There is one song in particular that you will immediately want to hear again, and will be humming for the rest of your life, and the name of that song is ‘Tractor Rape Chain.'” And it’s true.

Up till 1997 they recorded with a deliberately low-fi sound; starting with 1997’s Mag Earwhig! they switched to a big shiny pop sound, but there’s plenty of brilliant songs in both periods. Most of their songs are under 3 minutes, many under 2 — enough to make the song’s point and quickly get out of there.

But 2002’s Universal Truths and Cycles features (amidst other greats) a 3:54 epic called “Christian Animation Torch Carriers.” It’s an impossibly big song, with movements and time changes and everything. It’s got just enough clumsiness to keep it real, but when Bob sings “She’s burning slow / Out on a mission’s light” and the lead guitar screams in out of nowhere, it’s just perfect. It’s quite unlike any GbV song I’ve ever heard, but somehow it sums them all up.

1 Response to “on universal truths”


  1. 1 Jamie S. Rich August 9, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    “unanimously-acclaimed”

    I just made it un-unanimous. I think Bob Pollard should have stuck with teaching.


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Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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