Guided by Voices

Bee Thousand

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The cult of indie rock thrives on the unexpected discovery, and in 1994 Guided by Voices were just the sort of musical phenomenon no one figured was still out there -- 30-something rock obsessives cranking out fractured guitar-driven pop tunes in a laundry room. Robert Pollard and his stable of beer buddies/backing musicians had been churning out stuff like Bee Thousand for years, but the album's surprise critical success marked the first time the group found a significant audience outside their hometown, and it made a clear case for Guided by Voices' virtues -- as well as their flaws. From the moment "Hardcore UFOs" kicks in, it's obvious that Pollard has an uncanny gift for a hook and a melody, and Bee Thousand's 20 cuts are dotted with miniature masterpieces like "Echos Myron," "Smothered in Hugs," and "Queen of Cans and Jars." However, there are also more than a few duds that threaten to cancel out the goodwill the great songs generate, and Pollard is an acquired taste as a lyricist -- his freakishly poetic verse has a real charm, but it's hard to figure out what he's on about. (GBV's other principal songwriter, Tobin Sprout, contributes less often, but manages a higher batting average.) The lo-tech rumble of the album's D.I.Y. production also wavers between being a help and a hindrance, depending on the songs, and as musicians Guided by Voices veer between sounding like inspired amateurs and, well, just amateurs. On Bee Thousand, Guided by Voices sound like a passionate and gloriously quirky garage band fronted by a thrillingly and maddeningly idiosyncratic songwriter; its many pearly moments make it a fascinating discovery for rock enthusiasts, but a few years would pass before this band was fully earning the new accolades showered upon it.

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