Decade :: Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (2001)

decade aquarium drunkard

What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.

From now through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections — tell us why you agree or disagree — and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.

41PYD9NMJ6L._SS400_Thus far our Decade entries have focused on artists that either came into existence in the 2000s or, at most, the tail end of the 90s. Those who have been around longer than a decade often pose a tricky proposition in regards to their later-period works rivaling that of their early brilliance. But then again, Guided By Voices never quite fit that mold, or any mold for that matter.   Though their first album was released in 1987, one could easily argue they didn’t make their first great record until 1993 or ’94. Then there is dealing with Robert Pollard’s prolific streak — 22+ years running, full of boundless creativity that, in terms of record cohesiveness, often yielded a mixed bag of results.

But early in the 2000s Pollard and the second version of Guided By Voices (backed by Cleveland’s Cobra Verde, who took over that role starting with 1997’s Mag Earwhig!) created the most focused of Pollard’s later-period, more hi-fi recordings. It was obvious from 1999’s Do the Collapse that Pollard wanted to take the band in a bigger, more slick direction, but the results on that record had seemed overly glossy and middling. Isolation Drills benefits from two things: the best collective set of songs Pollard had churned out in some time; and a raggedly polished sound that finally balanced the band’s rock with its recording ambitions.

Isolation Drills is track after track of uniquely catchy and engaging rock. Opener “Fair Touching” comes at you with the exact type of hooky guitar rock that used to be buried beneath poor recording quality or any number of other disguises that the band would employ. It’s a perfect pop song in its use of the opening, gut-grabbing guitar riff which wanders off into verse and chorus terrain before returning to the opening riff again. “Skills Like This” ups the ante with a thicker and more raucous structure and “Chasing Heather Crazy” echos “Fair Touching”‘s structure for more winning pop.

If someone were new to Guided By Voices, tracks like “Frostman” would seem like odd little lo-fi bridges, designed for brief moments to distract from the glossy rock, not call-backs to the band’s past. But here they do just that, briefly reminding of the band’s lo-fi heyday before tearing into emotionally endearing songs like “Twilight Campfighter.” As Pollard sings in “Skills Like This,” “I want to re-invent you now.” Whether he’s talking about the band’s vision or not, it’s accurate.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the album’s unquestionable highlight (and, honestly, one of the band’s unquestionable career highlights), “Glad Girls.” It sounds cliché to say, but I’m sure there is an alternate universe somewhere where this song and “Hey Ya” were both inescapable during the 00s. It’s ridiculously fun to sing along with, simple and uncomplicated and represents and energetic apex on the album. Its placement at the peak of the album is no coincidence and it serves as a mile marker for the band in many ways.

Guided By Voices would continue in a fairly similar vein until Robert Pollard called an end to the GBV name in 2004, but Isolation Drills is their finest moment of the 2000s and arguably of their post-Alien Lanes career – an ingratiating album that only becomes more so over time. words/ j. neas

MP3: Guided By Voices :: Glad Girls
MP3: Guided By Voices :: Twilight Campfighter

10 thoughts on “Decade :: Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (2001)

  1. Mag Earwhig reference! I am a Tree!

    Honestly, since becoming a GBV fan five or so years ago, the GBV/Pollard output, old and new, sort of blurs for me—it runs together. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are excellent records, I just forget *which one exactly* was the excellent record. (If that makes any sense.) Don’t get me wrong—I love Pollard and made it a point to play a GBV song every segment of my erstwhile radio show, but I just get overwhelmed sometimes. Which is why I particularly appreciate this review. Nice to have someone bring notice to something I might’ve lost in the shuffle.

  2. I thought I was alone in this universe in rating Isolation Drills as GBV’s finest hour – and not just of the 00’s.

    Its not lo-fi enough for some and a cop-out for others in aiming for the pop hit (“Chasing Heather Crazy”,”Glad Girls”) that they’d had failed to get with “Teenage FBI”. For me, it’s power pop nirvana – as if they’re dusting off the cobwebs, ready for the big time (that never quite came).

    Lyrically, Bob has never been more wonderfully oblique (“The Enemy, “Pivotal Film”). Its certainly in my top 5 of the century so far – can’t imagine it never being – whatever comes next.

    Thanks so much for your great choice.

  3. Great album, but the only Cobra Verde member playing on it was Doug Gillard. Cobra Verde were fired after the “Mag Earwhig!” tour because they were a bunch of A-holes; except Doug because he is a great guy. I thought this album was going to put them over the top. Some excellent material on this one and very personal (“The Enemy”, “The Brides Have Hit Glass”, and “Privately”). Oh well, I still love it.

  4. Couldn’t agree more – nice to see this album getting some much-deserved attention.

    Isolation Drills and Robert Pollard’s album w/ Doug Gillard (Speak Kindly of your Volunteer Fire Dept) are the most consistently brilliant and curiously overlooked albums of the late 90s/early 00s. I guess the problem with being prolific is that your standout work gets buried into the mix.

  5. Great record but you’re wrong on Glad Girls, which is one of the worst tunes on the record. I definitely agree it’s an overlooked GBV record, but even Pivotal Film is better than GG. Thiiin aiiiir yeaaaaha yeaaah

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