Isle of Wight’s The Bees, for me, have always been just off the radar of accessibility. Put it down possibly to their Mercury Music Prize nomination in ’02, which made them the property of crazy industry hearsayers the world over. Myself, I was always interested in the real losers, the ones that wouldn’t get nominated for a prize by their own parents, so this is the first time I’ve got to check out The Bees, close up and personal, as MTV would have it.
Their Myspace is sanctified by the word “official”, but one listen to the opening track of Octopus blows the pretension apart. Who Cares What The Question Is? takes all your favourite folk and country influences on a seaside holiday, and makes them party like it’s 3007. This is insane in the best sense of the word, I mean, not catering for the Mercury judges at all, just absolutely mad, with layers coming out of both ends of the speakers and rhythm to set a grass lawn on fire.
The Bees have won me over already, so anyone expecting a balanced critical analysis can tune out now- there’s surely no need. Love In The Harbour sports a more pensive sound, still speckled in the sun of distant glories, the country guitar textures and harmonica spurts speaking with a smiling profundity that gets you dancing in the early hours. That harmonica really is something – it’s used so often now by people trying to recreate the past and a certain sentimentality, but this is pure, in-the-now, glory.
What are The Bees’ influences? To be honest, the beginning of Octopus has such a random glee that the whole heritage of pop music is put on hold. These cats don’t care. The Left Foot Stepdown is something else, tinged in “spook sounding dub fumes” says the press release, but the overtures are of a music so enthralled with itself as not to care for pigeons or holes, whatsoever. Got To Let Go though has unmistakable jazz overtures, yet approaches them with a kind of cartoon mischief that is so lacking in self-consciousness as to let it float in the air.
What a set thus far. Made for cats by cats in the deepest throbbing night. Jazz like it’s never been heard before, shot through the gun of a glorious pop sensibility. The horns in Got To Let Go take off like you’d wish over-considerate modern jazz artists would let them, pulsing in the air like a thousand festivities in one place at one time. I haven’t heard a wig-out as listenable as this for a long while.
Listening Man takes reggae influences in the same carefree way, incorporating them into a fun-time track that ebbs with bona fide rhythm of ages and jigs like a modern demon. Half time comes like an unwanted whistle when you’re firmly on top, but the crazy percussion and horn intro of Stand gets you right back into the rhythm. This is freestyle modern jazz to die for, coming out of the indie world with a knowing smile saying “we’re better than you at your own game, and, yes, you know it”. Too right.
(This Is For The) Better Days is what George Melly would be doing now if he were born of the ’70s, a sassy, sussed, succulent slab of true grooves and retro-futuristic melodies to hang your Grandad’s felt hat on. The keyboards are great here too, gluing Octopus together at the tenderest seams, the textures needing to be sowed, and getting sowed in apt electronic wonder. Here’s a Latino number, The Ocularist. Singer Paul even sounds like he speaks the language and isn’t just reading off a blackboard, the backing vocals cooing the most cerebral verses I’ve ever heard, “the incredible perceptions at the ocularisy (sic)”. Great, an Anglo-Latino blast that makes you dance rather than throw up.
The Bees really have a random knack for random things, and the closing End Of The Street takes you dancing like John Hartford, the pied piper of folk, often did at the top of his game. Octopus is what I hoped The Bees would sound like: the most dissolute underachievers in the world. Outlandish and of infinite humour, Octopus is an LP to die for.