Proving that there doesn’t have to be limits to lo-fi, in 1994 Robert Pollard effectively masterminded the best album in the Guided by Voices canon, the sprawling (relatively speaking), inspired Bee Thousand. Featuring 20 songs and clocking in at barely half an hour, Bee Thousand is quite epic, but is a poor man’s epic—big ideas built on a budget. Pollard (with occasional help from his writing partner Tobin Sprout) blends D.I.Y. production, garage-band instrumentation, and pop hooks that would sound just as catchy and classic stripped as beefed up. All the while, he shares a lyrical kinship with latter-day Frank Black and David Bowie.
Instant indie anthems like “Smothered in Hugs” and “Echos Myron” rub up against space oddities and sci-fi tales like opener “Hardcore UFO’s” and “Gold Star for Robot Boy.” The band behind them plays with the fervor of kids who have just picked up their instruments for the first time, but with the skill and craft of studio pros that know how to use them.
While never less than inspired, Bee Thousand isn’t perfect. Pollard’s lyrics don’t always strike the same gold that his influences did, and one can’t help but wish that Sprout had stepped in a little more to assist than he does, though “Hot Freaks” is a big enough reminder of the importance of his contributions.
Guided by Voices would arguably make better albums than this, but none of those would quite capture the spark of spontaneity that Bee Thousand has with every listen. For better or worse, Robert Pollard is guided by no voices other than his own, and that make his a true original in the lo-fi lexicon.
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