March 30, 2003

A Band of Bees "Sunshine Hit Me"

It's been a dour, gray weekend. The skies have been overcast and the wind has been terribly cold, and we've had drizzle on and off for the past little while. It's certainly different from two days ago, when it was sunny, warm, and the sky was the biggest brightest blue. Those days seem to be a distant memory today. Don't get me wrong; I love this kind of atmosphere, especially when I don't have to actually go outside. Just give me a cup of coffee and a great record to listen to, and I'll be just fine. But what shall I listen to today? Should I go for something dark, melancholy, and sad, or should I seek out something much more meaningful? Something warm and fuzzy, bright and sunny, blue and beautiful?

Yeah, that second one sounds nice. Let's go there.

So we're going to listen to A Band of Bees' much-hyped debut album, Sunshine Hit Me. They've actually been around for a few years and have released a number of EP's under the less wordy name of Bees, but this is their American debut. No matter; this happy duo of Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher have grown since those early days, including several new members, so maybe the whole "band of" is more appropriate for them now. And yes, in true England to US translation, many of these numbers have been previously released on those EP's.

Also worth pointing out about Band of Bees' name is that their influences draw heavily from artists with the name of "b". Yeah, they borrow more than a few chapters from Beta Band's book, and they've taken much from Beck's bag of tricks, but simply because they're borrowing doesn't mean they're boring. Oh, and hello, what's this, they also have more than a passing inspiration from Bob. Marley, that is. Yeah, it's quirky whiteboy funk with a liberal dose of reggae, mon--but don't think for a minute that these things stop them from being 100 percent fun!

And, yes, FUN is the right word to describe Sunshine Hits Me. I mean, look at the cover--Luche Libre! Pastel colors! Pink! Wrestling masks! Li'l fluffy clouds! It's bright, colorful, and just so darn cute, too! I mean, that right there should tell you *plenty* of what you're going to get. Yeah, you could also say that it looks like a potential Melvins record, but shame on you for thinking that. Shame, shame shame on you---though the Band of Bees are as good as the Melvins, too.

Ohhh....the music? The music! The MUSIC. It draws heavily from the springs of quirky pop, and especially of those bands I just mentioned to you, but it indeed also draws from lovely Caribbean sounds, with enough of a rum-splashed sound to make their pop all the more interesting. This is a most engaging, interesting mixture of world-beat and whiteboy--certainly an odd concoction, but one that really, truly works. About the only other band who makes sounds as organic yet fresh are Zero 7, so the fields that Band of Bees roam in are quite spacious.

As for me, I'm quite happy to report that Sunshine Hit Me has totally warmed me up today! Listening to such numbers as "No Trophy" and "Sunshine" takes me to a warm, sunny beach, with a cool drink in my hand. Their cover of Os Mutantes "A Minha Menina" is one of the best things I've heard all year--and last year, when the track originally appeared. If there's one flaw to be had with Sunshine Hit Me is that it the sunny vibe disappears right after "A Minha Menina," opting instead for a slower, softer, more electronic pop style that is very similar in style to Zero 7. And to further confuse things, it ends with "You Got To Leave," which is...a PUNK ROCK SONG! Yeah, this Band of Bees certainly know how to fly all over the place!

Regardless of this one minor programming flaw, Sunshine Hit Me is pleasant, sunny, friendly world-beat music, with no hint of suck-ass, feel-good NPR-liberalisms "diversity is good" stench that often overwhelm interesting sounds that aren't European or American in nature. Sunshine Hit Me is the sound of a band just having fun, tapping into that untapped well of, I don't know, intelligence. Mainly, though, the music is a lovely pleasure for the ears. Just be careful where you light that spliff.

--joseph kyle

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