Everything about Guided By Voices’ 12th album, Isolation Drills, shouts ironic. A photograph in a private jet plane, the lo-fi recording quality and the semi-sensible lyrics all contribute to the oddly ripened indie-rock group’s transformation.
Lead guitarist and vocalist Robert Pollard formed the band in 1994, bidding farewell to 14 years of teaching fourth graders in Dayton, Ohio. Pollard’s full-time commitment to music assured other band members Doug Gillard, Nate Farley, Tim Tobias and new member Jim MacPherson that Guided By Voices was more than a weekend hobby.
The nerdy, over-aged garage band’s earnest commitment to rock won a local cult following found basking in the crazy beer-guzzling mayhem of the group’s concerts early in its career. Today, Pollard and other members juggle interviews and tours, and crowds stretch far beyond Dayton’s one-room pubs.
Isolation Drills (TVT Records) reflects the recent popularity that Guided By Voices has received, and at the same time satisfied loyal fans’ cravings for tracks boasting classic, drunken-stupor-inspired melodies. Even if the lyrics appear more sophisticated, the search for profound intentions behind them persists.
Numbers like “Frostman,” “Fair Touching” and “Glad Girls” all carry the band’s traditional, simplistic poetry. The new album’s songs adhere to an ear-catching, head-nodding experience of Pollard’s Beatle-like voice in the company of talented, middle-aged musicians.
The album also features Elliott Smith on piano and organ in three of the record’s 16 tracks. Highlighting the band’s ample playing in songs “Skills Like This,” “How’s My Drinking?” and “Fine To See You,” Smith enhances sounds with melodic background fills. His appearance contributes to the dynamic style that Guided By Voices has grown into since its previous album, Sandbox.
Smith’s contributions, though, take up little of the band’s notorious, beer-intoxicated performing style. In fact, back-up guitarist Gillard and bassist Farley, combined with an adroit Pollard, collaborate to submerge Smith’s mellow piano playing in a sea of drunken control.
Producer Rob Schnapf, known for previous work with rock bands such as Foo Fighters and Beck, deserves considerable credit for the album’s success. Operating under TVT Records, Schnapf allotted the band serious freedom that led to very positive results.
Isolation Drills might not sport the finesse capable of elevating Guided By Voices to jet plane tours, or mainstream recording techniques, but the album succeeds in delivering fantasy fun and strong indie-rock tunes.
Isolation Drills is in stores now
This article appeared in the April 5, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.