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A similar ethic guides the buzz-saw attack of Nate Farley's rhythm guitar, the lubricious rumble of Tim Tobias' bass and the feral crash of Jim MacPherson's drums (finally given their justice in Schnapf's mix).

True to Pollard's word, Gillard's nuanced playing -- from the jangly fills of "Fair Touching," the angular lead lines of "Skills Like This" to the meaty power chording of "Pivotal Film" -- is deftly woven into the fabric of the record, providing a texture that owes much to the precise playing of Wire's Bruce Gilbert.

Adding further depth is a holdover element from the Collapse sessions -- the Soldier String Quartet. "I really like the strings on that record. Without overdoing it, I wanted to include more strings on this record, too," says Pollard, who lists the orchestral pop of Scott Walker and Jimmy Webb among his current listening favorites. The work of the classical combo colors a handful of Isolation cuts, including the thunderous, squalling coda of "The Enemy" and the rollicking album closer "Privately."

Other guests include a pair of high-profile collaborators. Former GBV mate Tobin Sprout plays piano on "How's My Drinking" -- a defiant yet weary-sounding rebuttal to critics who've derided Pollard for his onstage imbibing. Elsewhere, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith adds a few gentle touches of organ and piano.

Despite the star cameos, the focus, as always, remains on Pollard's lyrics. And while he hasn't completely abandoned the Mad Hatter wordplay that's marked his best work -- the brusque "Want One" ("A scoffer's clutch karma issue/A nursery whip for men who skip") is an especially surreal cut -- the bulk of the material here is far less cryptic than previous efforts.

"And perhaps, at last, the song you sing will have meaning," announces Pollard to open the album. "I actually wrote that particular line years ago," he says of the verse in "Fair Touching," a song which appeared -- albeit in a drastically different form -- on a GBV side project called Lexo and the Leapers. "It's weird, because it's pretty prophetic in that way," adds Pollard, acknowledging the more literal and decidedly personal tone of the record.

"[This] album -- more so than any record I've ever done before -- is very personal and very relationship-oriented. It's about being gone, being away from what you're used to being around, and it brings on this feeling of separation and isolation."

It's also about leaving those familiar comforts and faces behind to seek out something bigger and, perhaps, better. "On these darker trails, with light revealing holy grails," coos Pollard on "Twilight Campfighter," sounding very much like a man in search of answers at the end of a long road.

The album's emotional centerpiece -- and the one critics will likely point to as the most autobiographical -- is "The Brides Have Hit Glass." Despite its blithe musical approach, it would appear to be the song dealing most directly with the dissolution of Pollard's marriage: "I got a life of my own/You know I hate to be around her/When she's like that . . . One day I will know that it's a waste of time." If Do the Collapse cuts like "Surgical Focus" and "Picture Me Big Time" heralded an oncoming domestic storm in Pollard's life, then "Brides" all but confirms the damage left behind.

That sense of disillusionment is balanced elsewhere by grand sentiments of escape ("Leave your things in the streets and run wild") and rebirth ("Reinvent you nightly/Reinvent you rightly") on "Run Wild" and "Skills Like This."

But even Isolation's most musically rapturous tracks, the transcendent "Chasing Heather Crazy" and the harmony-kissed "Glad Girls" -- not coincidentally, the first two singles -- contain lyrics rampant with an unadorned melancholy. Of the latter, Pollard says the song is about "trying to find some sort of uplifting moments in the down moments." That succinct assessment could describe the overall theme of the album and Bob Pollard's life for the past year.

Whatever personal trials Pollard has faced, it has not slowed his creativity or his almost comically prolific output. His Fading Captain Series -- a line of albums designed to serve as an outlet for his myriad side projects -- continues to pump out new material at a staggering rate. Among the imprint's bigger releases was last fall's Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft, a four-disc, 100-song collection of previously unreleased material covering more than a quarter-century of Pollard's career.

"If all I could do is make one official Guided By Voices album every two years, I would go insane," he says. "So with [the Fading Captain Series], I can be involved in the creative process constantly, year-round. We've been pumping out five records a year. We've got a schedule coming up where there's a single in May, a single in June, my solo album in July, and the album I did with Toby [Sprout, under the moniker Airport 5] in August, and then I'm gonna be working on an album with Mac McCaughan from Superchunk.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr