Things you always knew needed to happen on the last Guided By Voices album: It has to be on Matador Records, the home of Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes Under the Stars. (It is. The band returned to Matador in 2002 after a brief fling with TVT Records. Though it should be pointed out their stint with TVT produced what is arguably their best album, 2001's Isolation Drills.) Erstwhile band member Tobin Sprout has to make an appearance. (He does, adding his sloppy, shimmery guitar to "Girls of Wild Strawberries" and "Huffman Prairie Flying Field.") At least one other former member of the band has to be involved somehow. (As it turns out, it is just one, vocalist/guitarist Robert Pollard's brother Jim, who provides the "amp drop"--yeah, me neither--on "Sons of Apollo.") Half of the song titles should make little to no sense, preferably the latter. (Let's see: "Tour Guide at the Winston Churchill Memorial," "(S)Mothering and Coaching," "The Closets of Henry," "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)," "Asphyxiated Circle.") One song has to defiantly deny their demise, if only in its title. ("Gonna Never Have to Die." Check.) It has to rank among the band's best releases, not sticking out like a sore thumb in a conversation that includes Bee Thousand and the three mentioned above. (And it does, ably summing up the band's lengthy career every bit as well as last year's best-of, Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, did. It's equal parts produced and not-so-much, with all of the prog-rock ambition of the last few years and the first-take-is-the-only-take spirit of the lo-fi first few, clever and cute mixed with heartfelt and homesick.) With that in mind, Half Smiles of the Decomposed might not be the best GBV album, but it's the best way to end.
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