Often, the simplest songs in music are the most enthralling. An unassuming, three chord structure with an infectious vocal melody can be as compelling as an improvisational jazz piece or Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland’. But when someone as gifted as Sacramento multi-instrumentalist, Julie Ann Bee (aka Sea Of Bees) fails to match their arresting vocals with equally-arresting song structures, you realise that talent can be wasted a little on simplicity.
Two songs into Orangefarben, ‘Take’ hears the sleepy acoustics and lyrics of love, lust and heartbreak that dominate the rest of the album. ‘Gone’ follows a similar pattern, albeit for an attractive phaser guitar effect, but it is not vastly different in sound from its predecessor. This gentle folk rock is part and parcel of Sea Of Bees’ sound (evident in her previous album Songs For The Raven) and there is, of course, nothing wrong with this. What is perplexing, however, is that Ms Bee has astonishing vocal drive, ability and emotional give, yet a lot of her music in Orangefarben lacks such ambition.
Thankfully, there are moments on Orangefarben that do startle. ‘Broke’, for instance, has all the ingredients to rival Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Give Out’ with it close guitars and crumbling vocals, and ‘Teeth’ is a vivid lament for falling in love with the wrong person, tinged with slick country guitars and drums that punch regrets head-on, “And I know I shouldn’t think those thoughts and I’ve gone ahead and thought those thoughts.”
Further still, Ms Bee and co’s cover of John Denver’s ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ (shortened to ‘Leaving’) is just as emotive and rhythmically animated as ‘Teeth.’ Sampled, shuffle-pop drums loop around biting acoustics and Bee’s layered harmonies are at their most dexterous and astounding here. Stand-out track, ‘Alien’, clocks in just before the album’s close; storming ahead with whizzing keys, defiant guitars, cracking wood blocks and distant vocals that scream a lover’s betrayal. It’s surely a crowd-pleaser live and adds much-needed variety and spice to the album at a pivotal point.
This assortment of sound is what can be heard initially on ‘Give’ (earlier in the album) and in ‘Grew’ at the album’s close. The former carries a jovial bass line with unpredictable beats and muted guitars, but before long the cuddly, star-twinkling melodies that saturate the album return and strip the song of its individuality. ‘Grew’ does emit a more experimental sound with grinding electronics, ethereal synths and mournful vocals, but, unfortunately, it fades into the background and is quickly forgotten.
Orangefarben is not without its share of solid songs, nor is it spared of its mediocre ones. It is a record lyrically charged with all the emotions of a shattered relationship and Julie Ann Bee couldn’t wear her heart more on her sleeve. But musically, it lacks the spark that no one can deny she can fuse. An ambitious sophomore effort perhaps wasn’t on the agenda, but it is exasperating that Bee has primarily dotted her artistic palette with shades that do not show off her full, vibrant colours.
Released on 9th April 2012 by Heavenly Recordings