Every step Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard takes away from the post-Bee Thousand, lo-fi indie rock of the late 90s is a good thing.
Pollard was meant to record big rock records, and when he finally did so with Do the Collapse, it was the sound of potential energy finally turning into kinetic energy.
But Do the Collapse, for all of Ric Ocasek’s slick production, was largely forgettable. It’s a disc that stayed with you only when you played it. After it was put back on the rack, that was it.
Isolation Drills continues Guided By Voices’ big budget recording career, and it’s a winner.
Producer Rob Schnapf has definitely given Guided By Voices a stronger sound. He lets guitarist Tim Tobias deliver his larger-than-life riffs as big as they are, and he doesn’t squash the rhythm section.
On first listen, Pollard’s voice nearly gets lost in the mix, but that’s only because Schnapf opted not to put the singer through an arsenal of effects processors. In short, Pollard fends for himself against the rest of the band and does a fine job.
Pollard, who serves as Guided By Voices’ sole songwriter, once again collects a set of songs that aren’t short on hooks, and this time, they’re pretty hard to forget.
“Fair Touching” opens the album with a jangly guitar lick that R.E.M. hasn’t written since Green.
“Glad Girls” is a dumb rock song in the best sense of the adjective. “Chasing Heather Crazy” has a simple back beat that gives the sing-song chorus some real shine.
Most of the really catchy songs — “Skills Like These”, “Sister I Need Wine” — take up the first half of the album. The rest of the album showcases more involved songs, high in volume and thick with heavy guitar work.
Isolation Drills is an incredibly strong follow-through to Guided By Voices’ graduation from lo-fi darlings.