Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly knows that I’m proud of North Carolina’s contributions to alt rock. After years of living here in Ohio, I have slowly realized that that the Buckeye state has much more going for it than just funk. Rock too was (and is) just as important here, not just the Cleveland-Akron variety with the Hall of Fame and Chrissie Hyde, but in places like Dayton, otherwise known for serious funk.
Dayton, Ohio will always be known for bands like Zapp and Slave, but over time I came to realize that it was also a fertile breeding ground for rock, especially in the ’90s with the emergence of The Breeders. Of all of Dayton’s bands none have stood out quite like Guided By Voices. The band has been around for at least 30 years.
The sheer volume of albums, EPs, singles and live recordings is difficult to keep up with. Through all the years and multiple band line ups, its lead vocalist and songwriter Robert Pollard has been a constant. Pollard himself has a lengthy back catalog of solo projects that are as long as his primary band.
It’s difficult knowing what the first Guided By Voices album I’d heard was. The early ones all sounded horrible (technically, likely magnified by poor dubs from tape sharing in college. It would not be until the ’90s that I would take the band seriously. I do remember liking two albums that represent the contrasting evolution the band: Bee Thousand (1994) and Isolation Drills (2000).
The two albums are dramatically different with Bee Thousand being the kind of scruffy lo-fi college rock that I associate with the ’80s and ’90s. Isolation Drills by contrast was more polished and looked to be the band’s mainstream breakout album (it sorta was). The ’90s was still a great time for college radio and Bee Thousand embodies the energy and enthusiasm of the period (although Robert Pollard could be lyrically strange).
Bee Thousand stylistically is all over the place musically. It’s kept together by a sharp focus on late ’60s American folk and English rock. In many ways it draws from the same punk influenced musical well that inspired Mitch Easter or Paul Westerberg.
At times it can sound like Robin Hitchock, The Replacements (“Mincer Ray”) or even Pavement. Many punk and early ’60s conventions are used- most notably the short songs, with many being no longer than 2 minutes. The short intense tracks don’t distract from the songs effectiveness as they are constructed like short thoughts vignette set to a musical moods. These moods don’t come together to tell a story or even suggest a general ideal. Its like a scrapbook of unconnected ideals and concepts with only weird lyrics being a constant.
In that odd college rock kind of way Bee Thousand ends up sounding timeless. Drums, guitars and screaming vocals is a recipe that rock lovers of any age can relate to. Even with less than stellar sound quality the power of this album is crystal clear.