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Guided By Voices: Mag Earwhig!

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Album: Mag Earwhig!
Label: Matador

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Contrary to rumors, Guided By Voices did not break up following the lukewarm public reception to last year's Under The Bushes, Under The Stars and the simultaneous release of solo albums by bandleader Robert Pollard and sidekick Tobin Sprout. Instead, Pollard and a handful of band members recruited their former labelmates in Cobra Verde to serve as a new backing band on a bunch of tracks that would make up the bulk of a new album. Then, to the further confusion of fans, other band members, including Sprout, contributed to the project, which a press release describes as "a 21-song epic rock fairy tale." The end product of what sounds like an organizational and conceptual nightmare is Mag Earwhig!, a recording that sounds remarkably like a slightly more polished rehash of the last few Guided By Voices albums. Fortunately, that's nothing to complain about. Of the 21 tracks, a few sound like throwaways, but more songs than usual display the skilled songcraft that has made Guided By Voices an exciting surprise since its emergence from years-long obscurity in 1994. And, as usual, at least a handful of tracks ("I Am A Tree," "Bulldog Skin," "Not Behind The Fighter Jet") sound like Pollard and company have been receiving divine pop inspiration. Epic rock fairy tale or not, Mag Earwhig! sounds like the work of a great band that, while not making any drastic changes in formula, continues to improve.