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Isolation Drills

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Isolation Drills

Artist: Guided by Artists
Genre: Rock
Release Date: April 2001

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

Early in their career, Guided By Voices' songs were usually less than two minutes long and burdened by murky production but often brilliant. GBV's sound evolved to the point that by 1999's Do The Collapse, most of the songs were three or four minutes long and Ric Ocasek's production was quite professional. Isolation Drills is another step forward. The music, produced by Rob Schnapf, sounds better than ever and the songs are generally good. At its best, Isolation Drills is a great mix of the big sound of guitar rockers like the Who, that GBV leader Robert Pollard clearly loves, with Pollard's very likable, poppy writing. Isolation Drills only flags when the sound bogs down as Pollard goes too far in entertaining his dream of being Roger Daltrey. However, with fewer diversions than their previous work, Isolation Drills is GBV's most consistent record and one of their best ever.

Isolation Drills is great on melodic rockers reminiscent of the best late 70s/early 80s new wave. Doug Gillard's hook filled guitar and Jim MacPherson's muscular but fluid drumming give Pollard's songs rock heft. Isolation Drills starts with six very good songs. A standout is Chasing Heather Crazy, a more developed version of irresistible GBV rockers like Bee Thousand's Echos Myron, Alien Lanes' Motor Away and Under The Bushes' Official Ironmen Rally Song. Even when his lyrics seem like gibberish, Pollard can create a great sense of momentum with a torrent of words. On Chasing Heather Crazy, one of the CD's apparently ambivalent songs about a strong woman, Pollard's supple vocal about a woman "sinking her foes" is winningly underlined by chunky power chords. Fair Touching is a fun, straight forward rocker(think Elvis' Peace, Love and Understanding) with a nice steady guitar line. Skills Like This has the big guitar sound of a Who guitar rocker, complete with Long Live Rock style climactic chords, but Gillard and MacPherson keep things buoyant and fast moving as Pollard sings about reinventing someone with "fifty hats and bargain suits." Twilight Campfighter is like a subdued version of Mag Earwhig's Jane Of The Waking Universe, with a good, thoughtful mood and jangly early REM style guitars. The quieter songs show Pollard retains his gift for making short songs that are fully formed and compelling. The 55 second Frostman, with delicate acoustic guitars, is a poignant ballad. On the 1:40 Sister I Need Wine, Pollard drops his usual flamboyant facade and cryptic lyrics for a vulnerable, plain spoken cry for help.

After the first six tracks, Isolation Drills is hit and miss. Glad Girls is an upbeat Can't Explain/Substitute type rocker that's proudly simple minded in its music and lyrics("glad girls only want to get you high"). The Brides Have Hit Glass, about seeing in a fellow rocker the lessons than can and can't be learned about the ups and downs of a music career, is a good, tight rocker with a compact guitar riff.

To a certain extent, Isolation Drills is GBV's classic rock record and at times the bigger rock sound encourages Pollard to indulge his tendency for pointless rock god posturing. Want One? is silly, if kind of fun, glam rock concluding with bad group whistling. The Enemy, which could be about marital strife, and Run Wild, which imagines a world "where armored cars keep the street" and urges us to "leave your things in the street and run wild", have heavy, overly meaningful singing and guitar. Pivotal Film lists dark images over a slow, grinding guitar. How's My Drinking? is Pollard's defiant, draggy, pretentious response to those who dare criticize Pollard's frequently alcohol impaired live performances that ends in a haze of keyboards provided by Elliott Smith and former band member Tobin Sprout.

Even the best Guided By Voices record has its share of garbage. Isolation Drills has as high a percentage of good songs as anything they've done. Pollard is still writing catchy, interesting songs and most of the CD is very likable. Some long time fans mourn Pollard's move away from lo-fi eccentricity. The band has lost a little of what made them distinctively appealing. But the songs are still strong and it's hard to argue against a better sound. Without taking the juice out of GBV's music, Schnapf, who's produced Elliott Smith, Beck and Foo Fighters, and good musicians give the band their biggest, best sound ever.



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