CD Review: A Band of Bees

Octopus Astralwerks
Music •••• Sound •••
Many words in the critical lexicon get abused in the sincere effort to better inform listeners what a piece of music actually sounds like. Time to murder another one. The Bees from the U.K. - billed in America, for legal reasons, as A Band of Bees - are best described as "psychedelic." Yet their sound isn't dependent on sitars, theremins, backwards guitars, or a need to be tripped out on LSD in order to understand their approach (though it should be pointed out that a sitar is present here). If anything, with their third album, Octopus, the Bees lean more heavily on dancehall reggae grooves and festive horn charts than on anything from Sgt. Pepper's or Pink Floyd.

Still, the overall feel of the album - with its lazy, hazy, sun-kissed shimmer and its open-hearted eclecticism - sounds like a half-remembered trip down both sides of the AM/FM radio dial at the latter end of the 1960s. Besides, the Bees do sing "The word is love, when your life needs to be full of light," which should make you sit up lotus-style and pay attention.

Initially led by the duo of multi-instrumentalists Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher, the Bees expanded their lineup to a sextet and built their own recording studio, the Steam Rooms, to accommodate their rambling ambitions. The band members have created a homespun coziness by playing around unsupervised, and the results are plenty loopy. The alt-country harmonica and harmonies of "Love in the Harbour" shuffle with a messy reverb that keeps things deliberately blurry. "Got to Let Go" borrows a funky early-1970s groove to support its kaleidoscopic blend of electronically manipulated Hammond organ, saxophone, and trumpet. And the closing "End of the Street" is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' everything-and-the-kitchen-sink "Something Happened to Me Yesterday," which closed their 1967 album Between the Buttons.

Octopus, then, is "psychedelic" is a genuinely modern sense. Which is to say, it's both retro and advanced, quoting rock's past while opening it up for the future.

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