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[Off The Record]
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Guided by Voices

The bio TVT sent to press with Isolation Drills states blithely that this is the GBV album where singer Robert Pollard will be " accused of having matured, " in effect daring critics to do just that. What TVT means is that Pollard has finally curbed his more difficult artistic tendencies — lo-fi production, long song titles/short songs, cryptic lyrics — in the interest of greater accessibility. He’s compromised before, most notably on his first TVT CD, the Ric Ocasek–produced 2000 release Do the Collapse. But there was something awkward, unformed, and even gratuitous about much of that disc’s pro-studio glossiness, as if Pollard were grudgingly giving in.

What makes Isolation Drills such a giant step forward are the little moments of musical and lyrical clarity. " Chasing Heather Crazy, " a typically Who-ish Brit-invasion mid-temp guitar rocker, picks up a bit more momentum every time guitarist Doug Gillard switches gears from airy arpeggios to driving power chords. And as abstract as some of Pollard’s lyrics get ( " Sending out a candidate/She’s sinking her foes/Peaking out the leveling/Wherever it goes " ), it all starts to come together on the final verse ( " All the girls are stumbling round/All the world is crumbling down around her/Staring out from otherworldly windows painted red/Doesn’t have to listen to the voices in your head " ).

There are a few little lo-fi songlets to keep old fans happy, and there’s at least one amusing song title ( " The Brides Have Hit Glass " is no " Tractor Rape Chain, " but it’ll have to do). Overall, though, Isolation Drills is the big, hook-filled rock album GBV have always threatened to make. Mature? Not exactly. Too little too late? Probably. Still worth the wait? Absolutely.


Issue Date: April 26 - May 2, 2001

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