The Bees,
Starry Gazey Pie
(self-produced, 2004)

Have a glass of wine, or a shot of really good liquor. Eat a good and massive meal. Then find someone you can talk with until the wee hours of the morning, the kind of casual pointless chatting that leaves you feeling good and fuzzy at about 3 a.m. when everyone finally goes home. Take a long hot bath and collapse into bed.

Now, just before you fall asleep, notice how you're feeling. That satisfied, wired exhaustion, tinged with just the faintest dread of knowing that you'll still have to get up early for work tomorrow, is almost exactly the same feeling left behind after listening to the Bees' Starry Gazey Pie.

This makes reviewing them rather difficult. I can put on their CD, start out making a few notes, get pulled into the song ... and then it's an album of time later, and I'm a half-conscious bliss puddle, left with nothing more specific than a vague recollection of having just had a fantastic time.

Oh, a few distinct memories linger. I can recall the ironic distance between the apathetic delivery and the enthusiastic spiel of "Bring on the Clowns." There's a vague reminiscence of the rude guitar work at the end of "It Was," a strangely hostile farewell from an otherwise easygoing album.

This isn't a happy album. Half the songs, like "Message of the Birds" and "Letters from the Dead" partake of the downright eerie or heartily depressing. Daniel Tashian, Jason Lehning and David Gherke deliver their lyrics with a distant lethargy that encourages some very passive listening, even while the whole group is laying out hypnotically intricate guitar tracks and sharp piano melodies. Lurking in Tashian's 12-string and Gherke's drums is a lingering bit of the cheer in 1960s rock, but Robbie Barrington's bass or the group's united deadpan vocals are always there to suggest the apathy of 1990s grunge, or even a stifled bit of punk anger. Such low keys and lethargic vocals should be depressing; instead they feel peaceful, like lying on the couch at the end of a long week, with nothing to do. The lyrics are both disturbing and touchingly confidential, the conversation with old friends going into the realm of childhood dreams and future fears that strengthen everyone in the sharing.

Discussing individual songs seems almost pointless, because Starry Gazey Pie is such a unified experience. It starts with the easy outlook and upbeat tempo of "Destiny on Lawn," bounces with energy on "Love is Holiday" and meanders off for a drink through the sea of stars. But describing the surreal disconnection in "Letters from the Dead" without having first heard the homey charm of "It's Only Gravity" is like trying to share an old in-joke with new friends.

It's not a perfectly unified album, mind. The last two songs seem almost like an intrusion on the quiet companionship of the earlier album. And the lack of a lyrics sheet is a sad loss. Not that the Bees don't sing clearly -- they do, and thank you, and it sets them apart from most similarly laid back vocalists -- but because their lyrics have more than a touch of poetry, and it's often nice to see a poem.

I don't envy the music shop workers who have to categorize this one. It's got a touch of rock, a lot of folk and a unique attitude that makes it more sympathetic and engaging than such a quiet album has any right to be. For purposes of my own personal CD collection, I'm going to label it a success and put it with the lazy day-off music. You can decide what to do with your own copy, but you should get one.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 12 February 2005