19 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

I have read on the internets that Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand is a seminal indie rock album, and that it is one of the first lo-fi records ever made. I listened to it in hopes of talking about it, but after listening to it the first time something happened. This is not an album you can listen to a handful of times, and then reach a concise conclusion as to why it is good. This one will take some time. In accordance with this, I am going to listen to this album every day for the next seven days and record my thoughts and then hopefully by the end of it I will have figured something out. 
Day One:
One of the few things that I know about GBV is the fact that if one were ever to host a barbecue for a bunch of their chillest bros then GBV would be a good call in terms of music to play. I realized this while in Brooklyn last month. At Woodsist/Captured Tracks, GBV was played in between sets and at one point a photographer turned to me and said, "I fucking love this band." 
During my first listen of this album, I was with my attorney Gary and it was his first listen as well. Early on, Gary remarked that this record had that classic early '90s feel to it. Monotone singing and general angst. Further expounding upon this observation, I think why Gary and I both enjoy this classic early '90s feel is because the ideas behind it are not that far removed from what we are experiencing now. In the '90s, it was very much en vogue to say that the times sucked. Its beyond me whether or not they actually did, but it seems to be a typical state of mind based on what I have seen and heard from this time period. I think it still resonates today because in 2009 things are still pretty shitty. Both then and now, people seem to grapple with simultaneous feelings of apathy and earnestness. Things are terrible, and it gets to a point where one wonders whether it will ever get better and eventually the shit storm pours on long enough that individuals resign themselves to the fact that shit won't get better and from this disposition comes apathy. Apathy is all well and good, but its hard to fully come on board with this line of thinking. Shit doesn't have to suck. Change can be made if we just try a little. That's where the earnestness comes from. Combine the two, and you get groups of people who listen to rock and roll. 
One of the really great things about this album and about GBV in general is that the songs are really short and really good at the same time. The song lengths are short enough to suggest they are just throwaway tracks, but they are so not. There are no guitar solos or anything like that, but GBV still gets the job done. It's working man music which makes sense since GBV is from Ohio which is a state known for its workers. 
On first listen, the songs are kind of all over the place. Three or four of them will have a groove to them, and then there will be some sort of abrupt change. It's my understanding that a lot of the songs on this album had already been recorded in some capacity and were now being released for the first time. The abrupt changes are never really too obtrusive or anything like that because with the 2 minute format the song is over and done before you can complain or do otherwise. It's constantly changing, but never ever bad. Gary said at one point that GBV sometimes reminds him of Neutral Milk Hotel, and I agree somewhat with that statement. There are times where I think I hear it as well, but with the shorter song format its hard to really pin down why it seems like that. 
Can you imagine seeing GBV live? You'd probably hear a hundred songs, and that is no exaggeration because they could just churn right through them. Talk about a meaningful concert experience. 
After one day, this is definitely a great album but thats not the point. The point is to figure out why, and I am fairly certain that I came nowhere near that conclusion today. And I probably won't hit the mark tomorrow either, but something will come eventually and if nothing does then it won't be a total wash because it'll just mean that I spent an entire week listening to GBV.

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