Thursday, June 15, 2006

Guided By Voices: Isolation Drills (2001)

Not quite the production of Do The Collapse, yet cleaner than Mag Earwhig!, comes their second TVT release, Isolation Drills. If any of GBV's albums could be considered accessible by all, it would be this one. Pop "hits" are scattered all over this beauty (Fair Touching, Chasing Heather Crazy, Twilight Campfighter, Glad Girls...), and it is often considered the best of latter day GBV by their fans. Almost the entire album makes my playlist (which is probably not a surprise for most of you). From its GBV trademark aviation imagery on the cover, to its many throwbacks to 60's/70's stadium rock, Isolation Drills is pure GBV...

The album kicks off with a re-versioning of Fair Touching, which was orginally found on the Lexo and the Leapers album. It is practically the same song, except now with sparkling production. This is a beautiful song which comes to life with the cleaner sound. Skills Like This was showcased on some extreme sports soundtrack (or something like that), and it is a wonderful throwback to the rock of the late 60's, with its driving guitar and layered vocals.

Pop magic oozes out of Chasing Heather Crazy, a track which at first drove me insane with its catchiness, ringing in my head all day while I'm in classes. It is songs like this which make you ponder why GBV never hit it big. It is followed by the lo-fi Frostman, a track which almost seems out of place on such a slick album. After the short lo-fi break, GBV breaks into one of their most gorgeous rock ballads ever with Twilight Campfighter ("Could I have seen a sight much greater than your twilight eyes, that penetrate your silent lives"). I love the finish to this track, when the extra guitar kicks in just a little bit...perfect.

At a minute and forty seconds, Sister I Need Wine is just one of three tracks on Isolation Drills that does not make the two minute mark. It is a hauntingly beautiful acoustic track with a neat effect on Pollard's vocals. Equally short is Want One, which is part british invasion, and part Robert Plant howling. The Enemy starts out with a clip from the track Broadcaster House (from Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer), and other than having a great riff during the verses, and a fine outro, manages to be one of the least interesting tracks on Isolation Drills (and one of the longest). Maybe I'll put this one on the re-visit list for now.

Unspirited is another ballad-type of track, and this time with cello and violin, a great chorus, and Pollard dueling vocals with himself. It is followed by the joyous, uplifting, and overall incredibly happy Glad Girls. This song is extremely catchy, and you may find yourself singing it out loud throughout all hours of the day (especially in the shower). Run Wild is a great track too, with Pollard yelling "...and run wild!" over and over again. This track, along with the next (Pivotal Film) simply continue the album's prime directive, which is to rock.

How's My Drinking? slows thing down a bit, and has Pollard reflecting on his not giving a crap about sobriety ("Hows my drinking?/I don't care about being sober/But I sure get around in this town/To hell with my church bells/And leave me die with you/I won't change"). This song get's prettier every time I listen to it, another great ballad.

The Brides Have Hit Glass is a fun little tune, with a consistent rhythm, which originally did not make my playlist. It has grown on me over time like many GBV songs do. Fine To See You is a ballad-type of track which does not really stand out at all, and Privately has the same effect on me as The Enemy, as being a good track on a great album.

12 of the 16 tracks on this exceptional album have made my playlist. I read on a review somewhere that this album sounded like the album Guided By Voices always wanted to make. This may very well be true, as it is just begging to be played in front of a stadium audience. It is not in any way GBV's best album, though it does challenge for the title among the latter era GBV releases.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):

01 Fair Touching
02 Skills Like This
03 Chasing Heather Crazy
04 Frostman
05 Twilight Campfighter
06 Sister I Need Wine
07 Want One?
08 The Enemy
09 Unspirited
10 Glad Girls
11 Run Wild
12 Pivotal Film
13 How's My Drinking?
14 The Brides Have Hit Glass
15 Fine To See You
16 Privately


Anonymous said...

don't forget that elliott smith plays piano on three songs ("fine to see you," "skills like this," & "how's my drinking?"). "the enemy" outro could be in the top five boldest riff progressions in their repertoire, and "the brides have hit glass" is delicious angular pop.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I find most fascinating (and affecting) about Bob's music is its self-referential quality. So many of the lyrical and musical themes will reappear, often years later, in another (usually very different) song. In that way, maybe "The Brides Have Hit Glass" is the flip side of "Snatch Candy," which includes the line "the grooms have hit ice." Anyway, it all seems to be part of a self-contained universe.

The Rock Robot said...

That's definately true about the self-referential quality in lyrics. But I also find it in the music itself. For example, I'm listening to "Eureka Signs" from UT&C, and I am automatically reminded of "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud..." from Half Smiles!

Anonymous said...

The Enemy succeeds where In Stitches, Car Language and Beat Your Wings fail. That final burst with the string section is one of the most exhilirating moments GbV ever recorded. Otherwise, I agree with your list. This site is a great read, by the way.

The Rock Robot said...

Thanks for the comment (anonymous). I've heard elsewhere about how great The Enemy is and how many fans love it (or even see it as the highlight of the album). I think I'll have to re-visit again for the playlist.

Anonymous said...

You need to re-visit Privately as well...a hauningly beautiful track with great lyrics it is up there with Don't Stop Now and Tour Guide at the Winston Churchill Memorial as one of my favorite GBV mood pieces. Listen in the dark, with a candle and let it wash over you. Mesmerizing.

Anonymous said...

what I found interesting about Glad Girls is the song seems to consist of just choruses and a bridge. No verses! And it works.

Mixtape Jones said...

Yeah, I have to say that I think you should revisit "The Enemy." Mind you, I love it *mostly* because of the amazing outro (maybe one of the greatest outros in pop music history), but I think, overall, the song is a great example of the way Pollard plays with song form sometimes, not always sticking to the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/etc. model. It's proof that a non-traditional song structure can exist within a big, awesomely produced rock context and still kick ass. Just my two cents. Great site, just discovered it, will definitely be poking around a good bit.

Anonymous said...

I concur; your site is great! And so is this record.

My list:

Fair Touching
Skills Like This
Chasing Heather Crazy
The Brides Have Hit Glass
Glad Girls
Pivotal Film (Ending with their biggest groove?)
Sister I Need Wine
Twilight Campfighter
How's My Drinking?

...but the only song that leaves me cold (so far) is Unspirited. I love Frostman, but have the long version on my list.