Music criticism and the communities that surround it often have an impermeable character read into them, and not without reason. Complaints about mixing, mastering, or any audio quality specifics are especially formidable, incomprehensible, and even pretentious to outsiders and insiders alike. The merit to these claims is almost always found in the music if given the attention it deserves, but caring so much as to dissect rock music in this technical way runs against many musical and artistic sensibilities, and was completely against the ethos of the indie music scene through the 80s and 90s. Lo-fi music especially rejected traditional mass appeal in the recording process, the most direct and obvious example of music’s commercial nature through home recordings on vintage, cheap, or broken equipment, as well as manipulation of the recordings at hand.
Guided By Voices was a project of Robert Pollard, a Dayton, Ohio elementary school teacher with a constantly rotating crew of musicians. After initial recording sessions in studios and loan supported album releases, Guided By Voices was no closer to becoming a household name. The songwriting prowess of Pollard couldn’t curb the feeling that they were creating mediocre, insincere, and restrained music. At some point, they decided that if they weren’t going to get big, they would make their music sound how they wanted it to, and began experimenting with four track recorders, cutting and pasting different recordings and in the process creating totally unique sounds and textures that emphasized and elevated Pollard and Tobin Sprout’s songwriting abilities.
Bee Thousand, GBV’s 1994 album and their breakout hit, is an absolute treasure trove of incredible songwriting, endless creativity, and an acute understanding of the sounds they could create. Taking inspiration from post-punk, psychedelic pop, and British invasion rock, the eclectic influences shine through especially in a track list that is constantly jumping from idea to idea. Most songs on Bee Thousand clock in at under or just above two minutes, and many feature multiple ideas crudely stitched together in forty second bursts, but these hooks are so constantly great that these cuts aren’t jarring, but invigorating. Pollard & Co. are sure not to let any track overstay its welcome. Lo-fi quality is the only real constant, saturating hard rockers with rough, energetic fuzz and injecting ballads with psychedelic, roomy reverb. Melodies soar through walls of artificial distortion and guitar tracks fall in and out of place. The slow, melancholic ‘Yours to Keep’ is cut off mid-chord by the enthusiastic 150 seconds of pop perfection that is ‘Echos Myron’. The intimacy of Bee Thousand is matched only by its earnestness. At no point is there even a hint of the illusion that this is anything other than a few guys making what they wanted to. The ninth track, ‘Gold Star for Robot Boy’, reads as an unofficial, sarcastic anthem for lo-fi musicians as a whole.
If I waited for you
To signify the moves that I should make
I’d be on the take
Gold star for robot boy
Well then that’s okay