Guided By Voices
Bee Thousand
Scat Records

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Guided By Voices album, Bee Thousand. It’s the first record that I heard by GBV, and it made me fall madly in love with them.  I can’t remember exactly where or when I first heard the Dayton, Ohio troubadours of rock it but when I did just like that they became a band that I adored, a band I obsessively listened to and felt a deep kinship with. Robert Pollard’s voice just melted my soul, and the lo fi beautiful little rock treasures they created, with infused impressions of British invasion bands and marvelous melodies, harmonies, and poetry that you just got to sing along with and belt out to full volume in unison. Bee Thousand is a trailblazing record for the band, their seventh studio album, which due to its popularity and amazingness led to their signing with Matador Records. It is thought of as their most influential, well known, and to many fans like me, beloved album.

Guided by Voices have many great albums; Propeller, Alien Lanes, Under the Bushes Under the Stars, all during the band’s first iteration, along with Bee Thousand, are all my favorites.  It’s no joke that they are arguably the most prolific band ever. Frontman, band leader and singer Robert Pollard, or Bob Pollard as he is also known, has been called one of the greatest artists of our time. He’s basically considered a genius, albeit a highly lubricated one.  The band itself has had countless versions of itself, meaning players, over the years, with possibility over 50 different people serving in it. And a few hiatuses in between. Despite this, the concept and essence of GBV has remained the same. In the book Guided By Voices – A Brief History – Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll, by James Greer, Pollard talks about the experience he had when he was really stoned once – how “the answer to everything came to me and I couldn’t grasp it…it was a revelation. And as quickly as it entered my head it just left. But I knew it was something.” That ungraspable thought that he experienced as THE truth is what Pollard claims Guided By Voices is all about.

In Gravy zine issue # 3, circa 1995, after we interviewed Mitch Mitchell, the original guitarist in his van parked in the back side street of Metropolis in Montreal before the show on their Alien Lanes tour with Urge Overkill, I wrote these words: “I remember Bob Pollard telling me when I first met him that when he sits down to write a song it’s as if some unknown force feeds him the words and the knowledge  that he spews forth. Some higher entity of being which feeds into his mind which helps him to create and to see, “…ancient ideas”. With the haphazardly sounding intricate music accompanying much of Pollard’s insightful lyrics – one becomes acquainted with the depth and ardor of all living souls. Simple phrases amidst images of pioneering visitors, characters, soldiers of the world and mankind, come together at all times in a cosmic psychic reunion. If this sounds utterly insane to some of you, I have no doubt that it will…well then forget about GBV and listen to something less gratifying. Go for the glitter and the transparent shine. To most of you these are quirky little nidbits of songs and on the surface that is also true, however don’t be afraid to look just a little deeper. It will make you feel good about yourselves.”  We hung out with the band and Mitch and Bob that night, an amazing night my friends and I wouldn’t forget.

To this day these my feelings for Guided By Voices still ring true, and heavily, although I’ve kind of lost track of most of their output over the years. The last record I bought was Isolation Drills in 2001. I feel ashamed to admit this. Pollard has produced 16 full length Guided By Voices albums since. Not to mention all the other side project bands he is in and produced records for. The discography on their website is dizzying. At this point I have not a clue how long it would take me to hear every single song written and played by GBV or Bob’s side projects, it’s just an impossibility really. GBV’s latest record, Sweating the Plague, inspired listening parties on October 24, 2019 at various record stores in four different countries. Maybe I’ll get this record and start backwards.

But let’s get back to Bee Thousand. The album is apparently mostly comprised of bits and pieces of stuff Bob had written in years prior to Guided By Voices, that were salvaged and reworked and molded to sheer greatness. A number of the songs on Bee Thousand are these GBV signature short little snippets. Mitch Mitchell shared his philosophy behind the little the snippet songs when we interview him, “A lot of times the song is like a sentence, once the sentence is complete then it’s ended. It’s kinda like that, it goes for this long and that’s how long it goes and that’s it, no more. You don’t want to like drag it out, you don’t want to make it more than it is.”

A masterpiece, Bee Thousand, inspires feelings of pure bliss. I feel it down to the root of my being, rocking down to the depths. The whole album feels like an old fairy-tale book being read to you – you feel like you’re sitting before of a warm and cozy fireplace, being read to about tales of fortresses, kings and queens, bringing you to another time. Kind of like an enchanted Renaissance.The lyrics throughout are perfect poetry, and the music carries the essence of that poetic voice.

Here’s a review of a sampling of the 20 monumental songs gifted to us on Bee Thousand, many coming in at less than a minute-and-a-half. I’ve never been good at analyzing poetic verse so I won’t really try. Especially since these quirky little ditties don’t make a whole lot of sense not to mention their titles, but all of that’s part of their infectious charm.

From the opening moments of ‘Hardcore UFOs’, I am immediately transported, funny enough, to another world. My soul is lifted up to what feels like the highest state of being. It’s just magical and spiritual and one of most beautiful songs ever written. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel happy to be alive. Bringing you swiftly and soundly to that other world, to a safe haven of wondrousness. The guitar layers are like a language speaking to alien forms, or spirits in another world. It sounds like they learnt the secret language to call and communicate with angels.

Sitting out on your house
Watching hardcore UFOs
Drawing pictures, playing solos ’til ten
Are you amplified to rock?
Are you hoping for a contact?
I’ll be with you, without you, again

Turn and run the angel’s calling
You say when and I say I’m falling
Up and down from broken down buildings
Back and forth but please don’t bother at all

The second song, ‘Buzzards and Dreadful Crows’ has its charm for sure. The imagery is striking and for that it stands out. Is this a song about death? One of their older songs, Mitchell said in an interview, “’Buzzards and Dreadful Crows’ was kind of like an old weird song we used to do.”

Buzzards and dreadful crows
right on the tip of my nose
They wait like cats and fly out
for the light in my eyes to die out and it does…
Yes it always does
I’d be shocked and removed if it didn’t

Buzzards and dreadful crows
A necessary evil, I suppose
There’s something in this deal for everyone
Did you really think that you were the only one?

Tractor Rape Chain’ starts off with a little acoustic intro, quite unsimilar to the rest of the song, and then bam! the song begins for real. It rocks to and fro like a lullaby, really showing off the intricately layered rich tapestry of melodic chord progression. The lyrics describe a disintegrating relationship, but there is beauty in its sadness:

Why is it every time I think about you
Something that you have said or implied makes me doubt you
Then I look into your cynical eyes and I know it
As if it never meant anything to me

Parallel lines on a slow decline – tractor rape chain
Better yet, let’s all get wet on the tractor rape chain
Speed up, slow down, go all around in the end

In the first place it’s probably just paranoia
But there’s a ghost in my room and he says I better run
It’s a thing i know – It’s a thing i believe in
Won’t you tell it to go away?

‘The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory’ is possibly my favorite GBV song ever, certainly one of the most beautiful, and the one that got me hooked. Bob’s low voice is so prominent, so warm, like a cozy blanket, and the lone acoustic guitar accompanying him is the perfect backdrop.  Altogether the song is like a strange story being told, then it comes to the last verse that just explodes, it’s so powerful and poetic and urgent. And that flute or piccolo in the background dropping that singular note over and over: I just love it so.  The only time I got to meet Bob Pollard he told me he saw this song in a vision he had in a bathroom mirror, something about seeing his son’s face.

Cold hands touching my face
Don’t hide – the snake can see you
Old friends you might not remember
Fading away from you
The goldheart mountaintop queen directory
The goldheart mountaintop queen directory

And we looked
And we passed through the hallway of shatterproof glass

She runs through the night as if nobody cares
She screams and she cries and ignores all the stares
She wants me to come, but I’m never going there

‘Hot Freaks’ is a dirty, sexy, weird, slow lurking melody. The lyrics are so beyond, the tale told and the music are both so odd that it’s a heavenly match. The impassioned way Bob sings “Hot Freaks!” is hot for sure. I like the way he is singing faster almost rapping in a Bob Pollard kind of way.

I met a non-dairy creamer
Explicitly laid out like a fruitcake
With a wet spot bigger than a great lake
She took me to the new church and baptized me with salt
She told me, “liquor”
I am a new man

Hot freaks

This one is on the house
This one is better than ever

I walked into the house of miraculous recovery
and stood before King Everything
He asked me to join him in the red wing
Took me to pie land
Said, “I am a thigh man”
i will be eternally hateful

Hot freaks

Hot freaks

Hot freaks

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Guitarist Tobin Sprout sings on this record a bunch and ‘Smothered in Hugs’ is my favorite of his. A beautiful melody wraps this song up, with layers of chord changes, it’s got that rich tapestry thing going on, and great drum roll somewhere a third of the song in. I love the tempo and heaviness of it too, contrasted with the slow lament of the Tobin’s singing. The tale told is a weird one, no doubt, but just makes me want to pick up a novel from the 18th century or something.

In the summer that you came
there was something eating everyone
And the sunshine fund was low
We couldn’t greet you with a simple hello
And the watchers of the flood were busy in their chambers
Making sure there was new blood to sustain their dying veins

‘Yours to Keep’ is the first of the short snippet songs, just dynamite and eloquent is Bob’s voice, so soothing and crackly a little and that singular raw plucking guitar is, what can I say, like a warm summer night.

To see you sight unseen is worse
Then pick you up because you’re first
And go where the whistle blows
And go where the captain knows
Is just a lie

To train the bear to not get up
To slay the beast and win the cup
And stay with the sweet flesh prize
A necklace of 50 eyes
Is yours to keep

Then ‘Echos Myron’ blasts away it’s remarkable benevolence, I think it’s the happiest song on the record with it’s super upbeat tempo.  It’s gorgeous harmonies, a song to dance jump and prance to, scream your heart out to, with lyrics made of gold, an ardent feeling, that renaissance feeling, fair music, just feeling so good. Sounds kinda Beatle-esque I guess.

Tower to the skies
an academy of lies
And what goes up surely must come down
And we felt the mighty blowup with the walls coming down
Or something like that

Most of us are quite pleased with the same old song
And all of a sudden I’m relatively sane
With everything to lose and nothing to gain
Or something like that

Man of wisdom and man of compromise
Man of weak flesh in an armored disguise
All fall down

“If it’s right you can tell” echos Myron like a siren
With endurance like the liberty bell
And he tells you of the dreamers
But he’s cracked up like the road
And he’d like to lift us up, but we’re a very heavy load
And we’re finally here and shit yeah, it’s cool
and shouldn’t it be – or something like that

Another favourite, ‘Queen of Cans and Jars’ has the most amazing melodic hook and is poetic as fuck. Lots of glorious layers, booming energy and happiness abounds. Beyond the excitement is a profound deep pool grounding you deep in a subtle secretness.

To see the light and try but failed
On jagged seas that can’t be sailed
And sought to lead but always trailed
Asked questions anyway
And all around the breeding grounds
The nymphos sweetly played
The queen of cans and jars will keep them safe

To be so keen on global trend
To be so tight on how and when
To scratch and claw until the end
To work for each new day

And all around the hunting ground
The dead were on display
The queen of cans and jars will keep them safe

‘Her Psychology Today’  has a very weird heavy thumping pumping syncopated rhythm, with choppy chords, with funky chunky beat sounds, and awkward and dribbling noodling bass all over the place. Have a listen and enjoy these masterful lyrics.

When she speaks the flag unfurls
and the heavens split in half
When she launches her attack
In her opening paragraph

‘Kicker of Elves’ is certainly the most amusing song snippet on the album.  Love the tom drum thumping throughout. And just the idea.

Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee, kicker of elves
Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee, kicker of elves

On high seas in search of
The sickly sweet milk of selfish love
And knife these for warm fresh blood

Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee, kicker of elves

In studded crown the thief of souls
The parasites – the bugs of gold
This fertile land now spoiled and sold…

When it comes to  ‘I Am a Scientist’ I feel smart just listening to this. “I’m a lost soul, I shoot myself with rock ‘n’ roll” is an amazing lyric in itself. The music has this warbly tone to it and the rest is just simple and brilliant, paired with a super awesome catchy hook and melody. This is basically the hit single from the album, the most straightforward and understandable. The only actual video produced from this record.

I am a scientist – I seek to understand me
All of my impurities and evils yet unknown
I am a journalist – I write to you to show you
I am an incurable and nothing else behaves like me

And i know what’s right
But i’m losing sight
Of the clues for which i search and choose to abuse
To just unlock my mind
Yeah, and just unlock my mind

I am a pharmacist
Prescriptions i will fill you
Potions, pills and medicines
To ease your painful lives
I am a lost soul
I shoot myself with rock and roll
The hole i dig is bottomless
But nothing else can set me free

Guided By Voices will always remain an important band for me.  I kind of prefer their lo-fi sound more than the quality on some of the releases on the major label produced records.  Bee Thousand is an album for the ages. There is a charm and homemade coziness that can’t really be captured when production knocks out those raw qualities. Maybe that’s part of the reason they lost their draw for me, but I bet some of the records in more recent years, with them back on an indie have helped put back the quirkiness and lo fi sensibility just a bit.