CD Review: Mouthful of Bees take a sharp turn

Categories: CD Review
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"Here are some soothing words, not gonna rock your world..."

The opening words of "Please and Thank You", the first single off the new album by Mouthful of Bees, proclaim that what you're hearing now may not be what you expected. The Minneapolis four-some turned sextet's self-titled second release (released online April 21, in stores May 19) is not just a total departure from their highly touted debut The End, it may in fact be the last recording the band creates.

The addition of Simon Larson and Patrick Swanson has mellowed the tone of the band, bringing to the fore a batch a songs without a rock bias, more an ear for classical lines, layered harmonies and ethereal moods. In stark contrast with their successful pop-rock debut, Mouthful of Bees shares with its predecessor the willingness to find new textures and not submit to any preconceived notions of what the band should sound like.

The first seven tracks set a surprisingly cool consistency, with the kitschy "Del Boca Vista" setting a languid pace into the meandering and multi-faceted "Micky's Bed." Written by Swanson, the beautifully produced "Thomas Aquinas" follows next, leading into a stunning vocal by Kate Farstad called "Snow Blanket." It is a track intricately layered by Simon, with the end result showcasing the 80+ takes necessary to create her digitally un-enhanced vocals.

mp3: Mouthful of Bees, "Micky's Bed"

"I'm really curious of what people are going to think of this record because it's so different," says Kate, the Bees' drummer. "It's not totally different because it's the same people... but the way that Chris versus the way Simon would write a song is totally different.  When you combine those it's really amazing." The band sounds as if they're not only trying to create a sound like no other band, but also to revel in that experimentation, simply in a different vain than was done before.

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The lush "Please and Thank You" contain harmonies which have rarely been heard since Crosby Stills and Nash in their heyday. Larson's and Chris Farstad's juxtaposed voices also complement their different songwriting styles, combining to form a Utopian atmosphere of sound. Up through the moonlit cemetery shuffle of "Enhance Your Starry Night," the music has revolved around the simplicity of piano and acoustic guitar.  

Once into the instrumental "John Blackthorne," though, the band meanders through tunes that are more jazz and funk driven, highlighted by Chris's and Mark Ritsema's guitar work and Kate's rhythms. "Appling" and "Round Dance" sound more like tracks from the Bees' first album and the contrast is a little too obvious at first, but they flow right into familiar, ringing harmonies again before they trail out.

The ballad "Maybe When we're Better Friends," written by bassist Micky Alfano, is a return to the shuffling sound heard earlier on, placed between the aforementioned rockiest tunes.  Finishing up the album, the Bees also show that they're still having fun and not taking themselves too seriously with the soap opera drama of "Rory is Off Limits" and the child-like tune "The Magic of Numbers."

mp3: Mouthful of Bees, "Please and Thank You"

Simon Larson's attention to detail in producing this album is like that of a classical composer.  Even the things that might feel a bit off are done intentionally, and although the songs can feel drawn out at times, the total running time is a comfortable 47 minutes.  
While the future of the band remains uncertain, its members are not giving up on music anytime soon. 

"I know they all will always be working on something, if not together" says Swanson, who's moving to Los Angeles in the Fall.  While Kate's still studying in Germany and Chris is finishing up his degree at Grinnell College in Iowa, they will rejoin the remainder of the band still in Minneapolis.

"I think the people who thought the first one was good might not be the same people who think the second one is good," says Mark. "But there will be other people who'll think the second one is really good, who might have not liked the first one." It's anyone's guess how the album will be received, but it's even more difficult to know with local airplay in short supply and no tour planned to support it.

Throughout, Mouthful of Bees possesses a quiet comfort rarely heard from rock bands known for taking pride in being eclectic and original. These songs will envelope the listener, taking them somewhere else in the process. It is the total indulgence of sound that makes this a unique and sincere work of art, standing light years ahead of The End.

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