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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Guided By Voices
Half-Smiles of the Decomposed
Matador Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


October 1, 2004
I will never forget riding in the car with my mother on the fateful day where she let me first choose the CD we'd be listening to on our drive together. Usually, our time in the Malibu was monopolized by a mix of Boz Scaggs, John Cougar, Journey and the sound of my shuddering. This day, I had brought Alien Lanes, which is, to this day, my favorite Guided by Voices album. Rather than demeaning my selection as she had done with so many from The Germs ("sounds like that bug guy from Space Ghost"), Throwing Muses ("Yuck, sounds like the Go-Gos, but messed up") and even artists as seemingly Mom-friendly as Matthew Sweet ("I'm tired of listening to this"), Mom greeted Guided by Voices with a polite, "It's okay, it's like the Beatles." Never one to turn down even a hint of a musical compliment, I took that to mean that GBV was my Mom's favorite indie band of all time.

I still believe that, to be honest. And if she had any recollection of that conversation (which she doesn't, I'm sure), she'd probably be heartbroken that her knights in Buckeye sweatshirts were wrapping it up. I suppose, to be a dutiful daughter, I should mourn for what she doesn't know she's lost.

It seems a little silly, really - after all, it's just a name, and there's every indication that Robert Pollard will be releasing thousands of Fading Captain entries, or maybe fulfilling my own personal wish of another hopeful brush with Mac McCaughan or Kim Deal - but a chapter in musical history has most certainly ended, and here we must pay homage in Half-Smiles of the Decomposed.

While loading up your Winamp playlist, the first thing you may notice is that none of the tracks delve under the two minute mark. Considering some of GBV's best work spilled out from minute-plus tracks, it is a little unsettling. To think, with a lengthened mindset, we would have never gotten "As We Go Up, We Go Down," "Game of Pricks" or "Shocker in Gloomtown." It's a tough thought, but it's not all bad - While Half-Smiles of the Decomposed does linger in places, even feeling a bit bloated, our knowledge that it's the last hurrah ensures it doesn't overstay its welcome. Its production also hovers between the beloved lo-fi starting block of the band and their uber-polished aging process. The middle ground is almost fitting, as it is fairly satisfying to both sets of fans.

Still, the sentiment of this album doesn't seem to be "This is a grand 'thank-you' to all of our fans," or even "This is the album we had to make;" largely, it feels like a tacked-on attempt to wrap things up and get on with it. Perhaps they had the foresight to know that fans like me would over-sentimentalize their farewells, so just continued on a progression to the end. Keeping a straight face, never aching or looking back, they are resolute in their departure.

Half-Smiles is full of the idiosyncrasies we've come to love from Pollard and Co., but gone is some of the joy from those early days. The wonder has vanished, and in its place is the semi-tired maturity of road-tested veterans. This is the dark, advice-giving "hangover" stage, antidote to all that partying. Hard truth be told, it is time.

Beginning with a murky twang that sounds an awful lot like the opener to their 2002 song, "Eureka Signs," "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)" could be a poppy outtake from Universal Truths & Cycles or Mag Earwhig!. It strings along, tripping over itself, and never fully reaching the expectant explosion of self-satisfying rock. Shiny and hook-filled as ever, it's still a little lumbering, but warms the album up nicely.

"Sleep Over Jack" is hollowly whispered and defensive - a hurriedly concealed wound. It unravels into distortion and confused, stop-start balladry. It effectively conveys the head-spinning, bitter feelings that all of this is over. In this particular track, Pollard seems overwhelmed and a bit heartbroken, but through it all, supremely jaded.

After this, then, we are given the other angle, focusing on the sweetness of the experience: "Girls of Wild Strawberries" is bright-eyed and gritty, relying on its lo-fi history and acoustic grumblings to fuel its success. Though it insists, "Nobody really cares anymore, anyhow," in its two-and-a-half minutes, it becomes the symbol of what every GBV fan desperately wanted out of their eventual send-off: All told, lessons learned and a million songs in the can, Guided by Voices still sounds great.

While other highlights assuredly crop up - with the rolling crowd-pleaser, "Never Gonna Have to Die," the mired, Classic Rock stomp of "Sons of Apollo" and the adrenaline buzz of "The Closets of Henry" all come to mind - "Girls of Wild Strawberries" resounds as the perfect sentiment to go out on. While no longer the band of merry mischief-makers they once were, their passion for music is still thriving. Half-Smiles of the Decomposed is one part succinct finale and one part bridge: there seems to be an undisputable argument that the Fading Captain series will proceed with an unprecedented focus and a new sense of purpose. In the meantime, we are left with a vast back catalog to lovingly re-explore. There could hardly be a better gift than a decided end and an invigorated beginning. All that's left is to wait and see.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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