The Canon, Examined: Guided By Voices – “Isolation Drills” (2001)

Guided By Voices - Isolation DrillsGuided By Voices is my girlfriend’s favorite band. So they tend to come up at social events every so often, and usually when they do the response is something like, “I have Bee Thousand, but I never listen to it.” (Aside: A dozen canonical albums could be subbed into that sentence and be applicable to everyone. MP3s have ruined us!) Anyway, it’s silly because 1) it’s Bee Thousand, and 2) it’s hardly the last stop on the GbV express.

The thing that strikes me most about 2001’s Isolation Drills — after those chiming, Pete Townshend-worthy strums — is how much it sounds like Elliott Smith. At least production-wise. 

The album shares many of Smith’s, and by extension, Drills producer Rob Schnapf’s, favorite tricks: Take “Chasing Heather Crazy” and “Sister I Need Wine” which double and pan frontman/mad genius Robert Pollard’s lead vocals. The guitars shimmer and crunch much like Smith’s circa Figure 8, and the punchy, driving drums should be familiar as well. Elliott actually plays on a few of these tracks, but it’s Schnapf’s lo-fi turned widescreen sound that works absolute wonders for the band, who’ve always been arena rockers at heart; it helps that the fleshed-out production is matched by 3-4 minute songs that sound rich and full-bodied, a far cry from the fragments of albums past (though Pollard sneaks in a few, namely the intro of “The Enemy”).

“Chasing Heather Crazy” is the album’s finest moment, the kind of huge pop song that could’ve been a crossover hit in the post-Gin Blossoms ’90s. The whole album owes a debt to the ’90s power-pop movement, but it fortifies the unerring melodies with the rock backbone of Pollard’s beloved Who. Any GbV album is great to have and not listen to, but if you have Isolation Drills in your download folder, it’s time to put it on.

Guided By Voices – “Chasing Heather Crazy”:


The Canon, Examined is an occasional series spotlighting the finest records to ever slip through the cracks. For previous installments, click below.