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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bees: Sunshine Hit Me


1) Punchbag; 2) Angryman; 3) No Trophy; 4) Binnel Bay; 5) Sunshine; 6) A Minha Menina; 7) This Town; 8) Sweet Like A Champion; 9) Lying In The Snow; 10) Zia; 11) Sky Holds The Sun.

The Bees are perhaps the best thing to have happened to the Isle of Wight ever since the 1970 Fes­tival. There are really but two of them: Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher, and I like it how Wi­ki­pedia tells us that both «had been notables on the Isle of Wight scene for a while» before relea­sing this album — with a whopping population benchmark of 140,000, there certainly must be some real cut­throat competition on the Isle to become «notable».

Yet The Bees certainly do not sound at all as if they would be fit for the cutthroat business. For the most part, this is wimpy, harmless, friendly music for friendly harmless wimps. Even when the band «rocks out», they do that to such a blatantly retro type of garage-influenced sound, that it is impossible to suspect any toughness. Actually, they only rock out once, on their lead single, 'A Minha Menina', not even an original, but a rather faithful cover of an old Os Mutantes song. And the only rocking presence on there is the grumbly riff, distorted exactly the same way that Os Mu­tantes were distorting it in 1968. A thirty-four year old cover... hmm... could the Beatles ever cover anything that was 34 years old, and put it out as a single? Some prime time old-fag-ism we have here, no doubt about it.

Dissection time. In 2002, The Bees mostly draw their inspiration from: (a) yer basic sunshine pop and pop-rock of the 1960s; (b) yer dreamy introspective pop and folk-pop from singer-songwri­ters and art-rockers circa the early 1970s; (c) various black music genres like dub / reggae / funk, more precisely, those varieties that still sounded fresh and inspiring circa the mid 1970s. This is an interesting and not utterly wasteful combination — I am not sure if I have really heard any­thing thoroughly similar to 'Angryman' before, with its dub/disco/pop synthesis. But I don't hear any conscious emphasis on innovation. It's just two charismatic indie guys who are not afraid that they will be drowned in the sea of all those other indie guys playing their retro games. They just go into that sea, and swim in it, and have fun. That's the best way to go about it.

Since the basic styles of the tracks are so diverse, everyone will have personal favorites. It is hard for me to take these guys as «Serious Artists» (as distinguished from serious artists, who they cer­tainly are), so my favorites are the numbers that I feel and think they do best – soft bouncy rhythmic kiddie-ditties. Like the opening 'Punchbag', whose main hook – "whooh, use me like a punchbag" – just floats along on a soft cushion of bells, chimes, and brass, creating a warm atmo­sphere that only a total Mr. Grumpy could refuse. Or the closing 'Sky Holds The Sun', whose mi­nimalism should, in theory, already be annoying these days (I mean, everybody's a minimalist, gimme some Mahler in pop music already), but still wins my trust because that main (and only) hummable line is so goshdarn pretty.

Every once in a while, they try to raise the bar, and somehow succeed by failing. For instance, 'Sunshine' is a slow-moving instrumental that seems to emulate the romantic spirit of the early art-rock movement – nobody in the band really has, or is brave enough to show, the chops for that (indie bane strikes again), but the music still sounds very nice, with moody guitar and organ solos, dreamy vocal harmonies, etc. However, when they try to do it one more time ('Zia'), with more emphasis on solo piano work, it already feels a bit like déjà vu, so no thanks.

'Angryman' is still the best – that groove is totally infectious, let alone the ominous lyric "an an­gry man needs attention", with the best moment hitting around 2:50, when the «soft» version of the groove is (alas, for a few bars only) replaced by a «hard» version, with tough brass and wah-wah guitar coming in from the dark side of the street. It shows that the Bees have a subtle snap next to their omnipresent smile, and that the snap can bite as hard as the smile can dazzle.

Whether these songs will manage to stay with you once the sunshine is out and you're in for a long cold winter, is not for me to say. Like all retro-oriented records of the XXIst century, Sun­shine Hit Me will hardly ever take the place of its influences in the public or critical conscience. But for that particular part of the public who frequently wonders – what would all these once-cool styles sound like today, had punk, New Wave, electronica, and hip-hop not swept them away? – here's your answer. Happy? Join me in my thumbs up.

Check "Sunshine Hit Me" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Sunshine Hit Me" (MP3) on Amazon

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