A homecoming of sorts, Universal Truths And Cycles marks Guided By Voices' return to Matador, the first label the group worked with after making it big in the early '90s. Universal Truths also serves as a return to the self-produced, anything-goes approach of those early-'90s albums, a welcome prospect for listeners who want the full GBV package. Lately, ever-prolific band mastermind Robert Pollard has divided his songwriting output between slickly produced GBV albums and the countless offshoots and side projects that have become home to his sketchier ideas. The difference has been one of degrees. Albums like Do The Collapse and Isolation Drills may have been sincere attempts at populism, but they still bear Pollard's unmistakable eccentric stamp, albeit with a cleaner sound and power chords. Fine albums in their own right, they miss the rhythm of GBV's earlier efforts, which scattered odd interludes and truncated pop amidst the grandiosity. Meanwhile, Pollard churned out so many footnotes under his Fading Captain Series aegis that even the most devoted fan would find it hard to keep track of them all, much less remember which ones housed the gems among the clutter. Universal Truths more or less splits the difference between the two approaches, and to good effect, restoring Pollard's reputation as the master of the 1:22 song fragment while offering plenty of latter-day, reduced-scale classic rock. Pollard now seems less interested in converting the world population into Guided By Voices fans than in furthering his own vision of what rock 'n' roll should sound like, with a sound crafted from a half-remembered yesterday and lyrics taken from a private mythology of airplanes and bogeymen. When Pollard is at his best, as he often is here, it's the rest of the world that sounds out of step.

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