Monday, December 13, 2010

The Bees: Every Step's a Yes

Originally published by PopMatters on December 9, 2010

For American fans, the Bees are something of a cruel enigma. First of all, there was already a Bees, so the Bees over here are called a Band of Bees, which is apparently confounding to iTunes but easily fixed on iPods. The Bees have never played live in America, so while fans in the UK have had ample opportunities to hear the Isle of Wight band’s skewed melting pot melodies up close and personal, the best we’ve gotten are a handful of sorta cruddy videos which might as well be that old Sasquatch footage for all it purports to reveal. Compounding the issue is the fact that we seem to get the new Bees albums—which already only come around once every couple of years—several months at least after fans in other parts of the world get them. I’m talking “official” releases rather than “grey area” downloads, which I suppose are sort of egalitarian in that we can all steal it at the same time no matter where we happen to lay our heads.

Don’t do that with Every Step’s a Yes, though. Because no matter how long you have to wait to hear it, if you pay actual money for the Bees’ fourth album, maybe they’ll think it’s worth packing all their crazy instruments into a hundred steamer trunks and playing some shows on this side of the Atlantic for a change. Plus, the album is a total joy, and unlike so much of the flotsam and jetsam calling itself rock and/or roll these days,Every Step’s a Yes is worth your hard earned dough, even at impatient import prices.

The first gentle toe in the water was “Silver Line”, a delicate and plucky number with haunting organs and haunting background vocals and a tingly feeling like sitting in a bathtub filled with warm honey. Then came the single, “I Really Need Love”, which also opens the album. And I don’t know if you have love or want love, but this really is how it might feel, what with the acoustic strumming and the little bridges with their soaring harmonies and desperate pauses.

What you loved about the Bees from albums past is also there, too. Witness “Winter Rose”, a psychedelicarribean link that draws a line all the way back to their debut, Sunshine Hit Me, right down to the tin-can guitar, cavernous organ, and bubble-pops. They’re not a tenth as aggro, but the Bees share a wide-eyed approach to various musical genres with the Clash. They’re also every bit as good at incorporating those sounds into their own mix without it sounding forced or phony. Even without their splendid mixtape release, The Bees Present: The Sound Selection, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to imagine these guys having wildly diverse record collections. Any band that can pull off a Simon & Garfunkel-meets-the Monkees song like “Silver Line”, come over all Pink Floyd on “Island Lover Letter”, and close out an album with a dub Sesame Street song like “Gaia” is worth at least a happy listen.

Fans of any band have their favorite albums, and it’s too early to tell where Every Step’s a Yes will fall when compared to Sunshine Hit MeFree the Bees, or Octopus. But it’s to the Bees’ credit that they consistently release albums so strong that there’s no clear way of answering that question.Every Step’s a Yes is more than just a worthy chapter in the Bees’ astonishing collected works. It’s also a single achievement I’d put up against just about anything else released by anyone this year. And sooner or later people in America will have the (legal) opportunity to discover that for themselves.

9 out of 10