Whether or not you subscribe to less-is-more or more-is-less in the way of songsmith skills, it’s still a feat to cut over 1,000 songs to tape. In Robert Pollard’s case, the notoriously kook-cryptic backbone of early 90s lo-fi outfit Guided By Voices, many an argument could be had for the former, calling out a good 75% of his output as under-a-minute hissy throw-aways rife with non-sequiturs and head-scratching titles like “Over the Neptune/MeshGear Fox“.
However, therein lies the magic of Pollard and GBV—they never glossed over their four-track basement sound, even as they began to make waves outside of underground Dayton, OH and signed to Matador, and managing to inject the rock and roll arena-hooked spirit of The Who laced with lyrics a fourth-grader would adore. **In the spirit of full disclosure, Pollard’s day job for some time was an elementary school teacher. The kids are alright in many capacities here; Pollard and crew perfected the art of creating like a child in an adult arena.
And though they’ve teased a breakup and indefinite hiatus in the past, rotating out over 50 members since their first album in ’87, their new album and following single announcement got us nostalgic for some of their gems thus far—still as nonsensically poetic and gloriously scrappy as ever.
5. “Hot Freaks” – Bee Thousand
We’d like to include all of 1994’s Bee Thousand, the band’s most accessible collection of quirk, that went on to become a staple of the lo-fi movement. In a way, we have, as three of the five cuts on this list are from the record. “Hot Freaks,” with its rumbling grain of tape-deck, rattling bass guitar, and the cool sludge of Pollard’s megaphoned tinny lines is a magnum opus on the genius side of the inhibition-less.
I met a non-dairy creamer
Explicitly laid out like a fruitcake
With a wet spot bigger than a great lake
When I was a kid, I had create my own 20-page book with a box of crayons and my brain. I wound up narrating some tale about aliens and dreams of wolves in space-suits. It made sense to me. The “Pipe Dreams of Instant Prince Whippet” probably make the same sense to Pollard. Pollard, uncharacteristically hi-fi, here is clear and focused, cutting through this fantasy with the jangle of his guitar bright and crunchy. Now try not to scream the chorus along with him.
We see her distance
To this I can testify
I haven’t mastered the impulse
Of fixed-metal cigarettes
Give birth to smoke
This Bee Thousand A-side ballad starts as a somber acoustic finger-pluck dropping lines about snakes and old friends and then explodes into a seemingly sensical plot about a female character, right before a chalky overdub choir howls the title line. Whatever narrative you draw from it, this is GBV balancing their finest between craft and crypt, an eerie one-note recorder fill, carrying the tune along.
She runs through the night as if nobody cares
She screams and she cries and ignores all the stares
She wants me to come but I’m never going there
The goldheart mountaintop queen directory
This pre-Bee Thousand harrowing folk number from the 1993 EP Tigerbomb has to be a joint-though of sorts. It takes a moment to sully the kid-imagination front; you see (inhale) there are these mice (holding breath) and they feel nice (exhale) in somebody’s room. Whatever the hell it means, “the night is long and as cold as ice” but the warm hiss of the tape deck where Pollard is channeling his inner James Brown is as comforting as ever.
I won’t put that in my mouth no
It is a fright with that neon light
The Hollywood magic men
Back up in their caves
1. “Kicker of Elves” – Bee Thousand
Aside from its menacing attitude towards elves, this is the best one-minute testament to Pollard’s oddly familiar gift of boiling these kooky tales into pop. And while he gets lurid in verses about “bugs of gold” and “warm fresh blood,” the anthemic guitar sweep just might as well be The Who‘s “Pinball Wizard.” Obviously the image of kicking elves—not just one elf, friends—is more creatively engaging, no?
On high seas you search of
The sickly sweet milk of selfish love
And knife these for warm fresh blood