Saturday, December 9, 2006

"I met a non-dairy creamer, explicitly laid out like a fruitcake"

#15 Bee Thousand, Guided By Voices, Scat, 1994

Released nine days before my 16th birthday, an event I celebrated by watching Return of the Jedi at home with Bowman and Saucerocket after passing my driver's test (oh yes, I was a ladies man), Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand would elude my ears for eight years. It was not until the spring of 2003 that, now married and still occasionally watching Return of the Jedi, I began fleshing out my "indie essentials" back catalog after much internet research and record store conversations. I really first began listening to GBV with the release of the Ric Ocasek produced Do the Collapse, which is perhaps one of GBV's worst records if only because it so heinously deviates from the crusty, lo-fi garage goodness of Robert Pollard's songwriting roots. However, when I heard it in 1999, I was like, "Hey, this sounds like Weezer," a reaction Ocasek's production was no doubt meant to elicit, and dug it. By 2003, I had Isolation Drills as well, but didn't really consider myself a true GBV fan. But after finding out that most everyone hyped Bee Thousand, along with Alien Lanes, as not only the two best GBV records but also classic '90s releases, I decided it was time to act. Radiofree only had Bee Thousand the day I went, so it was what I picked up. What a pick up.

Robert Pollard has the unique ability to write timeless garage-pop song classics. On Bee Thousand (which features audio that seems to have been recorded on tape, re-played through a boombox, and taped from that onto a new tape which was transferred to CD) awkward jump cuts and slightly out of key guitar meld perfectly with nonsensical lyrics and everything from avant-post-punk to acoustic art-balladry. Brilliant hooks and phraseology constantly appear, only to quickly vanish and never show their musical chops again. 20 tracks clock in at barely over 36 minutes which equates to an average song length of less than 2 minutes. To its credit, Pollard's genius on Bee Thousand prefers to burn out rather than fade away, nodding to the Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, and the Who (clearly Pollard's favorite) the whole way.

There are so many great tracks on this record, with such varied and eccentric sounds, it deserves an encounter, not a paragraph...but I'll give it one any way. Stoner opener "Hardcore UFOs" drones classic Pollard ridiculous-speak as it begins: "Sitting out on your house, watching hardcore UFOs." Mildly disturbing "Tractor Rape Chain" grinds its way into your mind with its catchy chorus and has the distinction of having gotten me weird looks at work for singing it to myself once. "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" has all the amazing bombast of a Queen epic, but couches itself with only Pollard's hissy croon and his acoustic, adding a single repetitive pan pipe note in the anthemic outro. "Hot Freaks," one of my Top 100 songs of all time, concocts the most erotically charged nonsense words since Lewis Carroll over a dirty drum beat that gets me dancing every time I hear it. "A Big Fan of the Pigpen" adds a sharp tone to Pollard's guitar while he rants that "the popular mechanics are at it again." "Kicker of Elves," ridiculous and genius at the same time, ends with a demented drum machine intro that bleeds into "Ester's Day" which calls out an actor for "skin-tight buffoonery." I'm telling you, you have to hear this to believe how good it is. Fan favorite "I Am A Scientist" provides one of the few earnest moments of the record as Pollard confesses: "I am a lost soul/I shoot myself with rock n'roll/The hole I dig is bottomless/But nothing else can set me free." And a liberated Pollard is a ludicrously endearing thing.

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