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Guided by Voices

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Robert Pollard, the creative force behind Guided by Voices, should be canonized. Over the past 16 years, the former schoolteacher has unleashed approximately 247 records of genuine guitar-pop bliss. Amazingly, each disc typically has about 247 tracks, featuring songs that careen from grandiose Who-like rock to stoned-out Moody Blues B-sides to half-finished song fragments that are all the more compelling for the masterpieces they hint at. In concert, Pollard usually performs his songs with a reckless abandon fueled at least in part by an ever-present and apparently bottomless Styrofoam cooler stocked with beer. Sometimes, God bless him, he even shares with the audience. Yes, indeed: Pollard oughta be a saint. On the new Isolation Drills, Pollard & Co. deliver more of the goods for which they’ve become semifamous: short, pithy pop songs steeped in a deep love of ’60s-style Anglophilic guitar pop. This time out, though, the sound is crunchier and more full-bodied than on most previous GBV product, including the band’s last album of new material, 1999’s also terrific Do the Collapse. Ric Ocasek performed production duties for Collapse; this time out, Beck’s former helmsman Rob Schnapf gets the nod. Like Ocasek, Schnapf has the good sense to put Pollard’s vocal rhapsodizing front and center, but he forgoes the New Wave sheen the former Cars leader favored. Instead, Pollard’s winsome melodies are often laced through a thick din of overamplified guitars and whipped into shape by a crack, on-the-up-beat rhythmic attack. The best example of Schnapf’s dial-twisting approach is the trashy and resplendent “Want One?”—a successful conflation of Big Star and Iggy Pop. Elsewhere on the disc, Pollard turns folky, occasionally making like an older, wiser version of Elliott Smith, who guests on several tracks, including the penultimate “Fine to See You,” an impressive R.E.M.-like brooder. GBV has been operating at such a high level of pop perfectionism for so long now that it’s easy to forget how masterful the band really is. Isolation Drills provides a scintillating reminder. —Shannon Zimmerman