An enigmatic live performer with bucket loads of disarming charisma,Sacramento’s Julie Ann Baenziger, helpfully known as Jules andoperating under the Sea Of Bees moniker, came to prominence only lastyear with debut album Songs For The Ravens. An assured, ellipticalrecord of wide-eyed psych folk, it was coloured further by Jules’personality, her yelp of a voice drawing vocal comparisons withJoanna Newsom. She’d already climbed the musical food chainquickly, having started out as a tentative bass player before a localstudio owner, the wonderfully named John Baccigaluppi, mentored her asa solo artist, to the point where she plays almost everything on new album Orangefarben.
Whilst the record’s title is literally translated to the German for“the colour of orange”, it is, more tellingly, Jules’ nickname for arecently lost love which is the album’s focus. There’s a level ofexpectation surrounding this sophomore effort from a promising andeccentric talent, but when a naturally quirky performer strives formaturity or has it thrust upon them on a break up album they’re onshaky ground. It’s a limiting, almost one dimensional, musicalidentity – there are droves of acoustic guitar hugging troubadours tookeen to talk about feelings out there – and in this case it also doesa disservice to her previous LP which was already romantically bruisedand careworn, in a charming and uniquely hazy way.
Such fears aren’t initially ill founded, maturity apparently a bywordfor a worrying retreat to standard pop form – opener Broke pilesacoustic guitar on acoustic guitar in a regulation major chord strumthat’s hamstrung by an insipid bridge and wallowing lyric “Won’tsomeone please hear me when I scream and shout?” Take follows andfares little better with a string quartet in a clunky Beatles-esquecoda that comes across as a contrived afterthought. Following thesongwriter’s manual chapter and verse, Jules’ uncharacteristicallyneutered voice either rambles around unfocussed melodies, suddenlyunsure of itself, or is double tracked, seeking strength in numbers.Alarm bells ring as Orangefarben’s setup feels like a rushedmisstep.
Thankfully, the overreaching MOR bluster that threatens to capsizeproceedings is forestalled – the trio of Teeth, More and Give bolsterthe middle of the record, are simpler in delivery and far stronger forit. More, an exquisitely pretty song about craving the attention ofsomeone who’s caught your eye, provides a spine chill as Jules’ voiceis back in its element, stretching and wheeling away. She’s also ingood voice on a pleasant, fairly faithful take of the JohnDenver standard Leaving on a Jetplane, one underpinned by simpleguitar and a pattering drum machine. However, its inclusion is the keyto the record’s main fault. Not a move befitting an eager, productiveyoung artist, the presence of this cover highlights the thorny issueof the relative quality of some of the material elsewhere and the onlyexplanation for its appearance is that it was beloved of the titularOrangefarben, an unapologetic testament to them.
When it finds itself so hopelessly in thrall to lost love, the recordcan cross a line into mawkish self-pity, the classic pitfall of many aconfessional breakup album, and its appeal can then wear thin. Julesthen operates at the expense of her own myriad talents, which is apity, and that the musical quirks of her debut are sometimes sandeddown doesn’t help either. Yet when the focus is on small details – alover’s crooked teeth, the excitement at their approach, walking themhome – Orangefarben has a distinctive, wistful melancholy.
Rather thanfinding solace in maturity, this record demonstrates that we sometimesdon’t need to grow up; maturity rings hollow if it’s at the expense ofone’s own character. Like a breakup with a first love, hopefully thiswas something Jules simply had to go through, an experience that willleave her stronger in the future.