The raven is a spiritual symbol in many cultures, often believed to represent the souls of the damned or an equivalent yet mysterious presence, dwelling somewhere between this life and the next. Sea Of Bees, aka California native Julie Baenziger and friends, encapsulate an otherworldly mood in their debut album, an interesting and unguarded blend of occasional dark corners and quirky escapism – the latter of which best depicts what music is about, after all. There are plenty of other artists leading similar outfits at present, and comparisons between Baenziger and certain Scandinavian singer-songwriters are particularly justified from the outset. Opening track ‘Gnomes’ incorporates charming elements of country/folk-pop and cute, melodic harmonies that feel slightly snaffled from Nina Persson’s A Camp, and it’s these elements that neatly establish a collection of songs whose primary goal is to sweep the listener away with their feelings.
Based predominantly on ‘lovey-dovey’ matters of the heart, despite the title’s suggestive, sinister subtext, Songs For The Ravens is perhaps best described as generally quite adorable, sometimes bordering on the well-meaning complexity of infatuation. Dreamy percussion unites with layers of more urgent drums during one highlight, ‘Skinnybone’, but Baenzinger’s sighing vocal maintains a slight spookiness. “Feel the colour of your soul right next to me,” she muses, the feeling of drifting created throughout becoming a lovely, longing sensation in a nostalgic ‘Fyre’, better demonstrating the American influences we might expect. Here Baenziger follows the more rocky terrain of Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy’s best attempts at soul searching, an approach rather famed in indie-pop and so traditional in its inspiration that it lends an identifiable edge to a song.
While ‘It Won’t Be Long’ proffers a more sombre ambience, with dynamic moody guitar and organ pitched alongside somewhat introspective lyrics (“It won’t be long until I lose my mind”), the commanding sunnier disposition returns in further odes to friends or lovers (‘Strikefoot’), effortlessly soaring towards a reckless drunkenness in trying to forget the one that got away (‘Sidepain’). It’s a sentiment we all can identify with, and so another quality in Baenziger’s songwriting that adds to its success. The absolute lack of pretension is complete in final track, ‘Blind’, a simple cello-and-piano piece that ends the album with a relaxed, subdued tone, ensuring that the ravens’ – and any humanoid listeners – every emotional need is covered and highlighting that, while not exactly varied in focus or feel, Sea Of Bees are no one-trick, er, corvid. An engaging introduction to a nice new talent, one can only imagine that the big black birds will tap their beaks on a nearby surface, both in time and in approval.
[Crossbill; June 1, 2010]
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