on 30 July 2009
`Bee Thousand' is one of the great "what if..." stories of underground rock music. Due to the band having barely any success whatsoever, `Bee Thousand' was intended to be Guided By Voices' last ever album. At the time, Robert Pollard, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, was still a school-teacher and decided that since they had been spending money on recording and no one was listening to GBV's music, they would just record on cheap retail equipment. Fortunately, Guided By Voices did not break-up, Robert Pollard left his job as a Primary school teacher and they became cult heroes. The album is hard to get into since the recording quality is pretty poor, but the songs themselves are absolutely incredible: `Tractor Rape Chain', `Smothered In Hugs', `Echoes Myron', `Gold Star For Robot Boy', `I Am A Scientist'; basically every song on the album sounds like a lost relic from the greatest band that never was. With far-reaching influences, short running times, cryptic lyrics and a severe and unquenchable fervor and enthusiasm burning behind every track, `Bee Thousand' is a phenomenal record. Guided By Voices, at this point, weren't even a proper band; it was made up of a group of friends and those who were available at short notice would play the instruments. Each song took around 30 minutes each to finish recording (the longest song on the album is just 3 minutes). You can sort of tell that this was their one last go, the whole record (especially the last three tracks) has a hint of an elegy about it, as if they would inject all their remaining doomed hopes and dreams into this last curtain call to an audience who no longer cares. Instead of being an elegy, `Bee Thousand' was just the beginning of many more years of brilliant music.
Recorded in 3 days on lo-lo-lo-fi equipment, `Bee Thousand' was always destined to be a commercial bombshell; condemned to never rise above the status of cult favourite. These songs however are just so perfect, studio recording seems like an un-necessary luxury. Despite other great albums afterwards, this record is always referred to as Guided By Voices' best album. Lo-fi and sketchy it may be and it may take a few listens to get into, but this is one of the best records of the 90's. What if `Bee Thousand' was never made? GBV would have disbanded and Robert Pollard would have stayed a teacher. Perish the thought. In the mean time, full marks, A+, gold star, 10/10, etc.
on 27 May 2014
Listening to this album is like walking through the wardrobe door and stumbling upon a magic kingdom. In its diversity, it recalls The Beatles' Revolver, but surpasses even that landmark. A magical, bewitching record everyone should hear.
on 10 December 2012
Not the best Guided by Voices album (that'd be Alien Lanes), not the best way to leap into the world according to Robert Pollard (Human Amusements at Hourly Rates should be your first port of call), and not even the best way to experience the glorious shambles of GBV mk 1(order the DVD of Watch Me Jumpstart- it's amazing).
So why buy? Well... there's something about it. Maybe it's the way it's the last hurrah of a great band nobody had ever heard of, a parallel universe of greatest hits cooked up by a bunch of thirty somethings with boring jobs and kids and mortgages and stuff. Maybe it's because it's a triumph of rock and roll over real life, great tunes over crappy production.
Or alternatively, it features the best half of tunes Pollard ever wrote- Smothered in Hugs, Tractor Rape Chain and Gold Star for Robot Boy dazzle and charm. And even if it sags a bit at the end, I am a Scientist is startlingly great, perhaps as close as Pollard ever got to offering an explanation for his lifelong obsession with rock n' roll and being in a band: 'the hole I dig is bottomless / but nothing else can set me free'.
So maybe not the best, but the most loveable album of the most loveable band going.
on 24 January 2008
it deserves 5 stars as it is the highpoint of 90's Lo fi recordings.
similarly there are bands like sebadoh and pavement and Liz phair was kinda in that area - but this beatles inspired band seem insanely cool tunes together with gritty guitars to produce one of the Lo Fi masterpieces around.
To those of you not sure what lo fi is - its like your mates playing in the garage and recording it there and then - its the music without the studio sheen.
personaly i like the aesthetic as it gets you closer to the music - the more times it gets recorded, dissected and then put back together inthe studio - the further away you are from what the guys actually wrote.
A great album packed with tunes and beguiling lyrics that is probably their best and the best place to start.