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Bee Thousand--9
Released: 1994

1) Hardcore UFOs  2) Buzzards and Dreadful Crows  3) Tractor Rape Chain  4) The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory  5) Hot Freaks  6) Smothered in Hugs  7) Yours to Keep  8) Echos Myron  9) Gold Star for Robot Boy  10) Awful Bliss  11) Mincer Ray  12) A Big Fan of the Pigpen  13) Queen of Cans and Jars  14) Her Psychology Today  15) Kicker of Elves  16) Ester's Day  17) Demons Are Real  18) I Am a Scientist  19) Peep-Hole  20) You’re Not an Airplane


Even the scattered moments of brilliance on 1992’s Propeller could not have prepared anyone for the huge leap forward that was Bee Thousand.   I believe that the mark of a great band is to deliver when the pressure is on.  Propeller gave the band some deserved attention in a few circles and frontman Bob Pollard noticed this.  His foot was in the door but it was still up to him to make something of it.  Did he deliver?  Oh yes.  Bob Pollard delivered and then some.  Seemingly out of nowhere came this group of drunken thirtysomethings determined to offer up a collection of songs embodying everything good about the past 30 years of rock and roll.  Bob Pollard had not only stepped up to the plate but had confidently hit one out of the ballpark. 


Sometimes the myth of Guided By Voices gets in the way of the actual music.  Even though their myth is probably the quintessential DIY-indie rock story, the namesake of Guided by Voices also carries with it some baggage.  Any person interested in the band is told that the remarkably prolific Bob Pollard does not know how to edit himself and that many of his albums suffer from this fact.  For every catchy, Nuggets-quality gem there is some lo-fi tomfoolery that threatens to damage the album’s consistency.  Thankfully, Bee Thousand is pretty much altogether void of such baggage.  Although definitely a grower, I have not come across an album that rewards the diligent listener more than this album.  While four or five songs may stand out to the listener upon first listen, this number continues to grow with each successive spin.  And hopefully it continues to grow in stature until the album is just one long stream of catchy hooks (which it is). 


The chiming, blissful guitars of "Hardcore UFOs" begin the album.  Bob Pollard's instantly likeable voice introduces us to one of his numerous catchy vocal melodies.  Following it is the rumbling rocker “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows” complete with a too-anthemic-to-be-believed chorus.  I am practically falling over myself by the time we get to “Tractor Rape Chain.”  As you may have already noticed, the titles and lyrics are quirky (another part of GBV's inexplicable charm).  But the amazing thing is that Pollard backs lines like “parallel lines on a slow decline, tractor rape chain” with some of the most bittersweet sing-along melodies ever committed to tape.  That’s the thing; practically every song on this album is overflowing with hooks, memorable vocal melodies, infinitely pleasing guitar riffs, and lo-fi charm.  For the lo-fi sound is worked to its best effect on Bee Thousand.  It gives the album a timeless feel, and each new person who discovers the album feels like he/she is discovering some forgotten classic that had been collecting dust in some shoddy basement.  


Besides being gifted with the knack for writing a good melody, Bob Pollard also manages to bestow upon his songs all that was good about the last 30 years of tuneful pop.  Whether it be the energetic power-pop of “Echos Myron” or the acoustic melancholia of “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” or the ringing guitars of “The Queen of Cans and Jars”, one can tell that Pollard has an ear for what makes a good idea even better.  Even his co-songwriter, Tobin Sprout (who would really come into his own on the follow-up Alien Lanes) can write a great melody (“Awful Bliss”).  And I haven’t even mentioned “I Am a Scientist” yet!   Set to one of the most subtly addictive opening guitar lines ever, Bob finally comes out from behind his psychedelic lyrical imagery to offer us this confessional statement: “I am lost soul/ I shoot myself with rock and roll/ the hole I dig is bottomless/ and nothing can set me free.” 


This is generally considered to be the best GBV album, and (although I sometimes enjoy the spontaneity and more rocking side of Alien Lanes compared to the many acoustic numbers showcased here) I agree.  While not a perfect album, (yet I’m sure GBV fans wouldn’t have it any other way) Bee Thousand happens to be one of the most enjoyable records I have heard.  While I am not that fond of the lo-fi mess of “Her Psychology Today” or the fragmentary “Demons Are Real”, these are only really minor aberrations of an otherwise sublime listening experience.  Who would have thought that an ex-4th grade teacher could have put together an album as hooky and as foot-tappingly hummable as this one?  Whether or not Guided by Voices is ever mentioned in the same breath as Pollard’s idols (The Who, The Beatles, etc), you’d be hard pressed to find a batch of songs that brings a smile to your face and a jump to your step quite like this one does.   

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