Guided By Voices: Bee Thousand [Classic Album Revisit]

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guided-by-voices-bee-thousandGuided By Voices
Bee Thousand
Scat Records

Released: June 21, 1994
Producer: GBV
Length: 36:30

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.

Guided By Voices Website
Guided By Voices Facebook
Scat Records

-Feature by Christopher Anthony

Christopher Anthony
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4 thoughts on “Guided By Voices: Bee Thousand [Classic Album Revisit]”

  1. It’s in my Top 10 All-Time:

    1) Yes “Close To The Edge”
    2) The Clash “London Calling”
    3) XTC “Drums And Wires”
    4) Genesis “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”
    5) Guided By Voices “Bee Thousand”
    6) Gang Of Four “Entertainment!”
    7) Pixies “Doolittle”
    8) Minutemen “Double Nickels On The Dime”
    9) King Crimson “Red”
    10) Sufjan Stevens “Come On Feel The Illinoise”

  2. Good job of writing! I can remember instantly loving it, listening in my Sao Paulo apartment. I loved singing “you can teach me all you know”. The tunefulness of every song is still unmatched.

  3. I was 35 and had pretty much given up on rock being great any more. I went to see GBV at the Black Cat in Washington DC on the strength of a review and a little phone snippet of Echoes Myron from the Washington Post. When the show started I was amazed. Could it be that rock was great again? Could it be THIS great again? Had it EVER been this great? Bob was kicking and swinging the Mic, Mitch was spinning like a dervish and windmilling like a hobbitized Townshend. I pushed my way up front. I remember wondering if I was overreacting and then noticing that Matt Sweeney, the frontman for the opening act (Chavez) was in front of me jumping up and down like a maniac. I bought two copies of Bee Thousand at the show, one for myself and one to give away.

  4. I was at the same DC Black Cat show and a not dissimilar experience. I friend and I went just to have something to do. Years before, I bought a copy of “Self Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia” because of a review I saw and thought was ok, but sort of filed it away.
    When I saw they were playing in DC I thought oh what the hell.
    I was expecting these weird little basement recording quirky weird outs and then they hit the stage and both my buddy and I just stood there in amazement.
    There was this band playing loud unrepentant rock, visibly drunk, and the songs…oh the songs!!
    I still can recall my disbelief as if it happened last week.

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