Guided by Voices - Isolation Drills (Cover Artwork)

Guided by Voices

Guided by Voices: Isolation DrillsIsolation Drills (2001)

Reviewer Rating: 4
User Rating:

Contributed by: LibraLibra
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Imagine that one of the greatest songwriters in the world came up to you and said, "Hey, I got together with my friends last weekend and recorded some new tunes in my basement. Want the tape?" What would you say? "Wow! I can't wait to hear what you've been up to!" Or perhaps, "There's no way I'm was.
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Imagine that one of the greatest songwriters in the world came up to you and said, "Hey, I got together with my friends last weekend and recorded some new tunes in my basement. Want the tape?" What would you say? "Wow! I can't wait to hear what you've been up to!" Or perhaps, "There's no way I'm wasting time on hissy recordings, no matter how good your material is." Unfortunately for Robert Pollard, frontman of Guided By Voices, too many music fans gave the second reply in the '90s, leaving such lo-fi masterpieces as Propeller, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes largely unheard, except by critics and indie rock cultists. The average listener just couldn't fathom that a track with an odd title like "Tractor Rape Chain," modestly recorded at someone's house, could be the equal to a pop masterpiece like the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face." Yet it is.

Isolation Drills was the culmination of the band's decision, in the late '90s, to gradually enhance the recording quality and accessibility of their music while trying to preserve its intelligence and melodic richness. In hopes of attracting a bigger audience, the band adopted a rich, clean sound, and employed it to craft songs chock-full of memorable vocal harmonies and full guitars. More than any other Guided by Voices album, this one had a distinctly rhythmic footprint. This was due to the exacting guitar work of the virtuosic Doug Gillard, whose presence was at least partly responsible for the slicker and more elaborate riffage.

Opener "Fair Touching" charges ahead with Pollard's brand of hooky rock that was previously muffled by shoddy recording quality. It makes perfect use of an attention-grabbing riff, which wanders off into verse-and-chorus terrain before returning to triumphantly close out the song. "Chasing Heather Crazy" shows off the band's mastery of Cheap Trick-worthy pop songcraft. And there are many more gems here, like "Run Wild," "Twilight Campfighter" and "Unspirited," whose choruses all soar like the jets on the album cover. But the album's unquestionable highlight (and one of the band's career highlights) is "Glad Girls." It's unpretentious, ridiculously catchy and easy to sing along to, and represents the album's energetic peak.

Veteran fans will likely note that, in comparison to the band's lo-fi classics, this particular batch of songs blends together in a much more homogenous manner, which proves to be a mixed blessing. Most rock bands function exactly like this, treating uniformity as a quality rather than a hindrance, but Guided by Voices is a different animal. On the one hand, the clean studio production does rob Isolation Drills of the timeless and unique ambience of an album like Bee Thousand, making it easier for indie purists to discredit the album as a disingenuous cash-grab, but on the other hand, you're never left to imagine what a song could have been like if Pollard had spent more time tidying things up (as is the case with a classic like "Wished I Was a Giant," which is beautiful while being impossible to sing along to because Pollard's voice is drowned out by the music). And as is the case with almost all of their recordings, the album runs into a few bad ideas, with the formless "Frostman" doing nothing to justify its brief 56 seconds, and "Want One?" being somewhat annoying in its grungy intonations. But these are a just few stumbles in a nearly-flawless run.

With this album, I believe that Robert Pollard consciously set out to make one of the biggest, greatest and most anthemic albums of his career, and he absolutely succeeded. Isolation Drills was as fine a batch of songs as he has ever written, and it's been buffed to a muscular sheen, sounding ready for arenas as much as bars. Certain fans of the band might miss the tape hiss, but with songs as good as these ones, that hardly matters. And for those who are nervous about trying out a band whose best songs tend to sound not unlike demos, this is an ideal starting point.


People who liked this also liked:
Guided by Voices - Bee ThousandJets To Brazil - Orange Rhyming DictionaryLeatherface - The Stormy PetrelBuilt to Spill - Perfect from Now OnCloud Nothings - Attack On MemoryJawbreaker - Dear YouSleep - Dopesmoker [reissue]Guided by Voices - Alien LanesAgainst Me! - As The Eternal CowboyCloud Nothings - Cloud Nothings

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Libra (February 22, 2012)

I borrowed from my own review that I wrote over 10 years ago and posted on Amazon. Is that okay with you guys, or is self-plagiarism illegal here? This isn't a term paper that I submitted.

eatdogs (February 22, 2012)

"If I were going to reword an album review and pass it off as my own I would have tried harder and not picked the first review of this album on Amazon."

holy crap, you're right. hilarious!!!

that's something i'd do back in junior high...

xtownshendx (February 21, 2012)

If I were going to reword an album review and pass it off as my own I would have tried harder and not picked the first review of this album on Amazon.

eatdogs (February 21, 2012)

ugh, come on people the order is like this:

metal man
bubble man
flash man
quick man
wood man
air man
crash man
heat man

telegraphrocks (February 21, 2012)

Hey, what a surprise! That dickless douchebag made a list!

Shit band.

loki13 (February 21, 2012)

These guys suck!

EchosMyron (February 21, 2012)

My tracklist for Half-Smiles would probably read something like this ("Sons of Apollo" and "A Second Spurt of Growth" just squeak in, because otherwise the album would only be 28 minutes long):

1. Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud
2. Sleep Over Jack
3. Girls of Wild Strawberries
4. Gonna Never Have to Die
5. The Closets of Henry
6. Tour Guide at the Winston Churchill Memorial
7. Asia Minor
8. Asphyxiated Circle
9. A Second Spurt of Growth
10. Sons of Apollo
11. (S)Mothering and Coaching
12. Huffman Prairier Flying Field

I only like about 6 songs off of Earthquake Glue, so I'd have to turn that one into an EP.

TheMike (February 21, 2012)

Agreed with Echos, although there isn't a lot of fat I'd trim from Half-Smiles of the Decomposed.

Earthquake Glue should be left alone. That's one of my top 3 GBV albums.

EchosMyron (February 21, 2012)

Here's Isolation Drills edited and re-sequenced into a filler-free, tight 39-minute rock album. It's worth about a 9.5, which I've rounded out to a 10.

1. Fair Touching
2. Skills Like This
3. Chasing Heather Crazy
4. Twilight Campfighter
5. Pivotal Film
6. Sister I Need Wine
7. The Enemy
8. Glad Girls
9. Unspirited
10. Run Wild
11. The Brides Have Hit Glass
12. Privately

You can even do the same with later albums like Half-Smiles of the Decomposed and Universal Truths and Cycles, though neither is quite as good as this one.

EchosMyron (February 21, 2012)

Score is for "Unspirited," "Fair Touching," "Glad Girls," "Skills Like This," "Twilight Campfighter," "Privately," "The Brides Have Hit Glass," "Run Wild," "Chasing Heather Crazy," "The Enemy," "Sister I Need Wine," and "Pivotal Film." That's close to a perfect, 12-track album right there. Yeah, I don't listen much to the four other tracks, but later GbV are always in need of some editing, and thankfully they have enough songs that even if you leave some of them out, you'll have enough left to make a full album.

TheMike (February 21, 2012)

Love this album. "Fair Touching", "Twilight Campfighter" and "The Brides have Hit Glass" are among my favourite GBV songs.

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