Released: June 21, 1994
I don’t think that anyone back in June of 1994 could have predicted the impact of this little lo-fi record from Dayton, Ohio band Guided By Voices. At the time, I was still in college and working in a music store, so I not only had access but I loved to dive into new stuff. Better yet, I loved to turn customers onto new records that I thought were great. By the release of Bee Thousand, I already had the GBV bug but was not totally committed so the first day I played Bee Thousand over the store speakers I had some doubts. That is where the story takes an interesting twist as I always had positive reactions from customers to my player selections. That day, I had several people refer to my Bee Thousand selection as noise, crap, shower singing and one person that just said “I can’t understand or hear a damn word!” – No I wasn’t working in a mall store but that day it seemed like it.
That is where the negative reaction on that June day and the creative genius of Bee Thousand intersect. To some, the four track recording process used to create Bee Thousand sounds like all of those awful descriptors on the surface. It is when you let the small pop moments embedded in Thousand’s tracks take over your head that the magic really happens – you now get it. I sort of compare it to those old 3D art posters – you need to look at the reflection to see the image. Some people can see it and some simply don’t get it. Welcome to Bee Thousand!
From the rocking out on “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows” to the exquisite quietness of “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” that morphs into a big sing along, you instantly want more from this record. “Hot Freaks” has a pulse that jumps out from the depths of lo-fi while “Smothered In Hugs” surrounds Robert Pollard’s vocals with a noisy mix of instruments but still becomes addicting.
It does not take long for you to realize that Bee Thousand’s sequencing is truly important. With most tracks being no more than 2 minutes long, the record lives and breathes by its song transitions. When the slower “Yours To Keep” ends right into the upbeat strums of “Echos Myron” – it just sounds right. Then “Echos” fades out and you quickly get hit with Pollard instantly singing “If I waited for you to signify, the moves that I should make” on “Gold Star For Robot Boy” which keeps the album moving – brilliant. When “Kickers Of Elves” flows into the wavering noise on “Ester’s Day” intro it sounds seamless even though you know the songs have changed. It is one album in my collection that you immediately start singing the next song as soon as the one before it ends.
Over the last 20 years, Bee Thousand has earned plenty of praise. It was number 1 on Amazon’s 2009 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time and number 10 on Pitchfork’s Top 100 albums of the 90’s. For a band that seems to still struggle to receive critic acceptance and a wider listening audience, I don’t think there are many people that will argue against Bee Thousand’s deserved spot in history. It is a very unique record that has not been replicated. Most genres always come back around but listing off quality lo-fi records that could even compete with Bee Thousand becomes a daunting task. Pollard has written plenty of great songs but “I Am A Scientist” still is easily one of his best.
Some Guided By Voices fans will argue between Propeller (1992) and Alien Lanes (1995) as their best but I always find myself landing right back in 1994. Bee Thousand represents a creative and catchy music making experience that is simply timeless. It is lo-fi but hits big at so many different moments that when listening, you forget all about the recording process, Dayton Ohio and short songs. What you do remember is a record that holds you with its hook filled “shower singing,” turns your ear with its “hard to understand” lyrics and is the best rocking “noise” that delivers on every spin. Bee Thousand may be 20 years old but you will not find one groove that has aged here as it feels like the summer of 1994 all over again – if only I could have a job in a record store today would my nostalgic album revisit be complete!
Deep Cuts: “Demons Are Real” / “You’re Not An Airplane” / “Queen Of Cans And Jars”
Artists Influenced by Guided By Voices: The Capstan Shafts / Neutral Milk Hotel / Tony Molina
Interesting Fact: There were at least five versions of this record before its final track list was set. Other considered titles for Bee Thousand included All That Glue and Instructions for the Rusty Time Machine, both of which were used in the lyrics of other Guided by Voices songs.
What is Guided By Voices up to now?: Albums and a tour. Guided By Voices have released six albums since 2012 and currently are out on tour. No confirmation yet but I would not be surprised if album number seven was already complete.
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