When it emerged from Dayton over a decade ago, Guided by Voices proved to penniless bands everywhere that, where there's a will, there's sure as hell a way out of Dullsville. Presiding over the band stands the prolific, Budweiser-guzzling, kung-fu-kicking ex-elementary-school-teaching marvel Robert Pollard, who won the world over with GBV's low-fidelity sound. Hailed as an indie guru, Pollard wears the crown of the lo-fi hero simply because, at first, the band could not afford to record any other way than by four-track recorder in rudimentary underground studios. Influenced by the Who, the Replacements, Cheap Trick, and R.E.M., GBV conquered the scene with brilliant two-minute songs and inscrutable lyrics.
Now that GBV has an ample bank account courtesy of TVT Records, its twelfth album, Isolation Drills, doesn't boast the primitive, poverty-stricken engineering of albums past. With help from producer Rob Schnapf (Foo Fighters, Beck, Elliot Smith), Pollard and his current bandmates (Doug Gillard, Tim Tobias, Jim MacPherson, and Nate Farley) deliver a very refined, radio-friendly record. A hint of their old noise (i.e., loud drums and guitars) can be heard in songs such as "Skills Like This" and "The Enemy," but "Chasing Heather Crazy" and "Fair Touching" are quieter pop gems that sound more like the GBV that emerged on its last studio release, 1999's Do the Collapse. Pollard views Isolation Drills as the band's "prettiest" album since 1996's Under the Bushes Under the Stars, but it's difficult to say goodbye to the ugly sound of yore. With lengthy, digitally mastered songs, one sorely misses the good ol' days when these guys were just screwing around.