September 27, 2002

Ed's Underground

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This is the band that epitomizes “lo-fi.” Nearly every ’80s Guided By Voices record is basically just a blur of really short songs with clattering guitars, recorded-in-a-tin-can production, and, most importantly, can’t-get-you-outta-my-head melodies. GBV distinguished themselves from other lo-fi rockers by actually putting some care into their songwriting, although the finished product had that charming feel of having been thrown together in one drunken recording binge (which, given Bob Pollard’s love of alcohol, probably was the case).

Bee Thousand is only one of the band’s masterpieces, but it may just be the best of them. It certainly contains some of the band’s strongest songs, including the plaintive “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory,” which builds to a chorus made for sing-alongs at the bar. The power pop hooks of “Tractor Rape Chain” will be stuck in your head for weeks after hearing it, and likewise for the upbeat “Echoes Myron” and about a dozen more of these brief snippets.

On the whimsical “Kicker of Elves,” Pollard demonstrates his propensity for tossed-off gems; how could you not fall in love with the simple catch line “do do do do kicker of elves?” And GBV sideman Tobin Sprout turns in a few great songs of his own, best among them being the slow-burning “Ester’s Day,” which pastes together song fragments without care for the end result.

Most of these songs don’t last more than two minutes, and GBV charges through all 20 tracks in barely over half an hour, but the songs’ brevity only adds to the album’s greatness. The whole thing has the feel of leafing through a notebook of sketches; each track is a half-realized idea, brought fully to life by the band’s enthusiastic playing. It’s a fun and raucous album; put this on, throw back a few, and collapse off your stool to the sound of the staticy, wavering piano notes of “You’re Not an Airplane,” the closing time ditty at this particular bar.

Archived article by Ed Howard