Guided by Voices
“Half Smiles of the Decomposed”
Sounds like: the wilting, decompressing descent into old age exemplified by the same awesome lo-fi songs they wrote 21 years ago
The final album of the vastly inconsistent yet totally brilliant band Guided by Voices is a shuddering testament to their casual decline. Guided by Voices, as the veritable lo-fi monolith that they are, has spanned more than two decades, with 15 albums, a large array of EPs and singles and a rabid, beer-soaked, collegiate fan base to show for it.
With remarkable albums like “Alien Lanes,” “Bee Thousand” and “Under the Bushes, Under the Stars” mingling with such mediocrity as “Isolation Drills” and an utter flop like “Do the Collapse,” this reputation for discrepancy was born. Legend has it that singer and songwriter Robert Pollard was pumping out five songs per day in his prime (a considerable feat considering his affinity for Miller Lite). Many of the songs somehow managed to be recorded and released via bootleg or through a strange mystery.
The outtakes release “Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft” allegedly has a rare follow-up floating around somewhere, aptly titled “MORE Failed Experiments…” In 2003, Matador records released a “definitive” Guided by Voices box set, probably a most daunting compilation to assemble. Shortly thereafter, “Human Amusement at Hourly Rates: The Best of Guided by Voices” was issued. All faith in the band was restored by “Human Amusement,” as the inconsistency of Guided by Voices’ catalogue was stripped to the core of Pollard’s remarkable songwriting.
At this point, it would have been all systems go for Guided by Voices to go on tour and bid farewell to their cult-like fan base. But no! There must be more! “Half Smiles of the Decomposed” is what should be considered the summation of Guided by Voices’ influence on the evolving realm of indie rock. But rather than coming off as a mature, self-actualized accomplishment, the album drags through murky tracks that lack the lazy, poorly recorded sense of humility of days gone by. While not entirely different in style, the album boasts track lengths of epic proportions for a band that rarely dealt with anything over the two-minute mark, which forces the songs to feel like they just need to end.
Among the better tracks is “Girls of Wild Strawberries,” which evokes a rather “instant classic” sentiment, cementing a sort of eternal quality to the band itself. “Window of My World” alternates between what could easily be two different songs with some rather articulate finger-picking for a band whose members’ alcohol consumption leaves the state of their livers in question. “A Second Spurt of Growth” languishes near the end of the album, blending into the completely avoidable “(S)mothering and Coaching” before the final track, “Huffman Prairie Flying Field.” The song is stamped with Guided by Voices’ trademark lo-fi haze, concluding the final album for this band in the same vein that it all started in.