Isolation Drills is one of Pollard’s most consistent records, at least in terms of sound/style. It’s all HUGE, produced in such a way that ballads like “Fine to See You” and “How’s My Drinking?” sound as big and bombastic as rockers like “The Enemy” and “Skills Like This.” Even the pop songs like “Glad Girls” and “Chasing Heather Crazy” are crunchy and powerful. Only “Frostman” — a four-track recording — and the acoustic “Sister I Need Wine” offer something delicate and fairly low-key.
Due to Isolation Drill‘s sonic consistency, I didn’t expect this earlier draft, called Broadcaster House, to be a very different listen from the released album:
01. Skills Like This
02. Fair Touching
03. The Enemy
04. Glad Girls
05. Sister I Need Wine
06. Twilight Campfighter
07. How’s My Drinking?
10. Chasing Heather Crazy
11. The Brides Have Hit Glass
12. Run Wild
13. Fine To See You
15. Pivotal Film
Wow, I was wrong! I thought that no matter the sequence, the album would flow about the same way. Not to mention that, there weren’t any non-album songs here to mix it up (only one missing, as “Want One?” is not here).
In fact, I found this sequence to have a distinct feel and flow. It was a fantastic listen that revitalized the album for me.
First of all, I don’t miss “Want One?” It’s a good song and I enjoy it (I even recorded a cover of it once), but the album is stronger with a slightly shorter running time, and “Want One” is the obvious choice to be cut. It would make a great b-side (and Isolation Drills yielded a lot of great b-sides).
I thought “Fair Touching” would be hard to top as an opening song, but “Skills Like This” shines in this spot. Something about that first riff and Pollard’s “ooooh” sets the tone perfectly and draws me in. And in turn, “Fair Touching” benefits in the way it storms out of the gate right behind “Skills,” picking up the tempo and kicking the album into gear.
In turn, the up-tempo pop of “Fair Touching” sets up the mid-tempo hard rocker ‘The Enemy” much better than I expected. “The Enemy” is a highlight of this set of songs, but is a bit buried on Isolation Drills, resting in that zone where a relatively long, sludgy song might not work as well. Putting it toward the beginning, sandwiched by two pop songs, is just a good idea.
The last half of Broadcaster House‘s side A slows things down a bit with a string of beautiful songs, “Sister I Need Wine” through “Frostman.” In particular, I like having “How’s My Drinking?” pulled up from Isolation Drills‘ side B. It has a kind of slow-motion majesty that benefits surrounded by other melancholy laments. I love how the incredibly dense, layered sound of “Drinking” (featuring piano by Tobin Sprout and a great organ drone played by Elliot Smith) suddenly opens up into the clear, minimal acoustic plucking of “Frostman.” Those two songs would be an excellent way to close the first half, but I’m guessing that “Unspirited” was probably intended to close this side, as it does on the finalized album.
“Chasing Heather Crazy” kicks off side B with a surefire hit. It has basically swapped places with “Glad Girls” on this version of the album, and I might prefer it this way. That sunny opening riff is just the thing you need after that string of melancholy preceding it. Following “Heather” with another indelible pop song, “The Brides Have Hit Glass,” is a second case of sequencing that highlights the strengths of two similar songs by contrasting their differences.
“Run Wild” is up next. I think it’d be a hard song to fit on any album, maybe because it feels longer than its 3:48 running time. In any case, it sounds good here. Incidentally, it took a while for this song to grow on me, but I love it now. Great vocals on those soaring choruses!
“Run Wild” sets up the closing trio. “Fine to See You” always felt like the FINAL song on Isolation Drills, and sometimes I felt like it should have been. It does sound really good coming after “Run Wild,” and with two more tracks following it, it no longer has that sense of finality. Just a nice, late album ballad.
As of late, “Privately” has been my favorite song on the album. It’s one that never really got its due, only being played live ten times. It’s a good song to go out on, but I like the Broadcaster House method of following a more emotional, powerful song with a swaggering rocker. It’s a good trick (see Earthquake Glue or even Under the Bushes for a similar closing pair) and “Pivotal Film” sounds right at home as the final song on the album. Contrasts with the previous two nicely.
In conclusion, why do I always think of Isolation Drills being overly “sludgy?” Is it that thick guitar tone on many of the songs? Or is just because of the Do The Collapse-style riffage of “The Enemy” and “Run Wild?” Listening to Broadcaster House reminded me how classic this album is, and that there really isn’t a lot of sludge at all. Broadcaster House successfully re-contextualizes a handful of songs that, for at least, tend to fall through the cracks on the album proper, and some of my old favorite shine in a different light. Recommended!