Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand: The 1994 SPIN Review
This review originally appeared in SPIN’s July 1994 issue. In honor of Bee Thousand’s 25th anniversary, we’re republishing it here.
It’s no secret that some of the chattiest songs crafted in recent years have been tossed off nonchalantly by bands who wouldn’t know George Martin from Wink Martindale. Haphazardly recorded, full of as much snap and crackle as pop, the low-fi output of bands such as Pavement, Grifters, and Sebadoh seems to indicate that they think a studio is merely the name for a small apartment.
Although such willful dissonance is probably just a reaction against the sterility of modern, big-budged production, one expert or another is always trying to explain the sloppiness as being typical of some whippersnapper phenomenon called Generation Eggs, whatever that is.
Maybe the catchiest and sloppiest of all however, is Dayton, Ohio’s Guided By Voices, whose own small, unpolished rock gems put the big lie to all that generational theorizing: The band is just too damn old to be lumped in with the slack pack. Singer Robert Pollard is 38, a full-time fourth-grade teacher and father of two; the six other musicians who flit in and out of the group are all in their early-to-mid-30s.
Nor are they recording rookies, having labored in obscurity since the mid-’80s with a steady stream of records that barely escaped Dayton city limits. Like its predecessors, GBV’s ninth album Bee Thousand seems to have been recorded with two cans connected by a string, but the band never wallows in the self-consciousness that basement tapers often indulge in.
Beneath all the fuzz, krunk, and recorder grot, GBV hides absolutely shattering melodies that call to mind a thousand reference points of light—all the aforementioned groups, plus late-’60s British psychedelia, Beard of Stars-era T. Rex, Chairs Missing-era Wire, R.E.M. circa Murmur, Cheap Trick, Bevis Frond, and Revolver, White Album, and Abbey Road-era Beatles, among others—while Pollard’s batty lyrics recall the frayed synapses of Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson, and Daniel Johnston.
With quiet, acoustic ditties such as “Awful Bliss,” “The Golden Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory,” and “Ester’s Day,” Bee Thousand has a mellower vibe than 1993’s Vampire on Titus or 1992’s Propeller. Pared down to their most minimal elements, sometimes to a single verse and chorus, Bee Thousand’s songs are cut to the quick; most of the tunes are under two minutes long. If there’s a weakness here it’s this brevity; I wouldn’t mind if perfect pop songs like these stretched on forever.