After leaving the comfy indie confines of Matador Records for the corporate sponsorship of bigger indie TVT Records, Robert Pollard and his partners in Guided by Voices abandoned the sloppy production that had long been their hallmark and starting playing on the same field as the big boys, which offended purists but also resulted in one of the band's best albums, 2001's Isolation Drills, which boasted a clean but potent production by Rob Schnapf. In 2002, Guided by Voices and TVT parted ways, and GBV's return to Matador, Universal Truths and Cycles, sounds like a case of two steps forward, one step back. Produced by the band with Todd Tobias in their humble home state of Ohio, Universal Truths and Cycles lacks the high sheen of Do the Collapse and Isolation Drills, but it also reveals a much sharper focus and precise musical attack than anything this band released prior to Mag Earwhig!, and if the production has a rougher surface, Pollard's ambition has certainly grown, with a tighter sound, more details, and even a well-placed string section on a few cuts. However, Universal Truths and Cycles shows the band has lost touch with the most important thing outside producers brought to their TVT albums -- someone to help pick, choose, and sequence Robert Pollard's over-abundance of songs. While Pollard has, as usual, come up with a few great tunes here (most notably "Cheyenne," "Everywhere With Helicopter," and "Eureka Signs"), this album lacks the thematic coherence and unified impact of Isolation Drills. Universal Truths and Cycles proves that Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices have come a long, long way since Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, but it also suggests the old high school football star needs a good coach to play at the top of his game.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming