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Guided By Voices
Half Smiles of the Decomposed

Pardon the lack of tears. Yes, there is mild melancholia surrounding the final release by the rotating assemblage of middle-aged musicians known as Guided By Voices. But GBV as a band retired long ago in all but name after leader Robert Pollard sacked everyone in the wake of bandmate Tobin Sprout's departure, circa Under the Bushes Under the Stars in 1996. The last great GBV record, it's been the Robert Pollard Experience after Under the Bushes... anyway.

The absence of hand wringing has other sources, too -- the double album of solo material Pollard says he will soon release being at the top of that list. But GBV's post-Sprout output is also to blame. Any honest fan who stuck around after the split would tell you the ensuing releases were, at best, frustratingly spotty. Pollard missed Sprout's melodic counter-weight as much as Sprout's bantamweight solo records could have used Pollard's substantial hooks. The children of GBV came out on the short end of that divorce.

Still, there's no denying the band's legacy. Mixing their love of Beatles/Byrds-inspired pop and noisy post-rock, the GBV catalog was a collage of hook-filled, alcohol-fueled anthems and snippets of stoner-inspired lo-fi half-songs (You don't need a chorus? All you have is a chorus?), all stitched together with child-like enthusiasm and a refreshing absence of irony. The formula seemed challenging enough to dismiss the very notion of coasting, but in recent years Pollard grew more and more predictable, and you could sense the well running dry.

So, do GBV exit with a bang or whimper? A little of both, it seems. Rollicking anthems like "The Closets of Henry," "Gonna Never Have to Die," and "Girls of Wild Strawberries" recall the best of the post-Sprout years, with hooks worthy of 2001's semi-redemptive Isolation Drills -- only with a little less studio sheen. But other entries -- like worst offenders "A Second Spurt of Growth" (now that's irony) and "Window of My World" -- recall the Ric Ocasek-produced folderol Do the Collapse: Overblown, overlong and delivered with all the passion of an afterthought. Fitting, then, that the last thing we hear on the last cut ever from Guided By Voices is the outro refrain from "Huffman Prairie Flying Field," a clearly unenthusiastic Pollard intoning "for far too loooong" over and over, moments after singing "I cannot taste the sweetness any more" (on "Asphyxiated Circle"). Clearly, Guided By Voices had run their course.
Track to Burn: "The Closets of Henry"
Rating: --John Schacht

Thirsty Ear

Groundtruther is a project of drummer Bobby Previte and guitarist Charlie Hunter, and Latitude is the first of a trilogy for Thirsty Ear Recordings. Each disc will feature a different guest, and alto saxophonist Greg Osby completes the trio here. Thirsty Ear's inspired Blue Series intends to fuse avant-garde jazz with other genres, and Latitude succeeds.

Even those familiar with Previte and Hunter will be surprised by this music. Previte also uses electronics and samples here, creating tones as well as rhythms. Hunter sounds like he never has before, trading his usual Hammond B-3 tone and jazzbo style for a more cinematic approach to match Previte's varied soundscapes -- from the echoing Twin Peaks vibe of "North Pole," to the pedal-steel sound of a Sergio Leone western on "40th Parallel," to a ripping Buckethead clone for the hot drum 'n' bass of "Tropic of Cancer" (the album's highlight). Latitude fades in the final act, and it could benefit from being more fun. Recent and upcoming concert dates with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and DJ Logic suggest the second and third installments hold great promise.
Track to Burn: "40th Parallel"
Rating: --Brian Falk

Apostle of Hustle
Arts & Crafts

Andrew Whiteman (whose day job is guitarist for Canada's smart and sexy Broken Social Scene) drops into his self-titled opening cut on occasion to tell the listener what's going on during this intriguing and otherwise all-instrumental song. "Six/eight claves, countered in 6/8 time...1-2-3-4-5-6," Whiteman matter-of-factly declares at one of the song's many time changes. "Folkloric feel," he adds at several seemingly appropriate places.

How you view that -- as precocious exuberance or pretentious know-it-all-ism -- will probably determine how you view the record as a whole. Regardless, there's no denying Whiteman's playing skills or imagination -- as a member of BSS, the latter comes as no surprise. This record veers from Cuban rhythms to jazz-inflected interludes, Leonard Cohen-like folk and David Byrne-inspired indie rock. But its strength is also its weakness; midway through all that marvelous invention you want desperately to hang your hat on a hook. Unlike BSS, there aren't enough here.
Track to Burn: "Folkloric Feel"
Rating: --John Schacht

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