Collections of Colonies of Bees – Giving
Post-rock saw itself subject to a bit of a mainstream vogue a few years back. Maybe it was at the hands of Sigur Ros’ Takk, which found its way onto a plethora of BBC television shows. It certainly seemed to raise a call for epic, sparkling guitar songs on TV, to the point where even Oceansize’s mighty (but largely unrecognised outside of musical circles) ‘Music For A Nurse’ graced an Orange ad. Then again, perhaps (from a strictly musical point of view, at least) post-rock’s most recent wave came two years earlier, with Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, a record that generated buckets of critical acclaim and gave rise to countless copyists, bands with long names and no vocals, as repetitive as the sounds from their delay pedals. The point is, for those of us whose first introduction to the subgenre happened at that time, post-rock became stale pretty damn quickly. Crescendos that should have elicited goosebumpery of the highest order fell largely impotent in their overexposure.
A lot of us were first introduced to Collections of Colonies of Bees, in their collaboration with Justin Vernon on 2009’s Volcano Choir project. Latest release Giving finds the Wisconsin quintet returning to the, for all intents and purposes, ‘post-rock’ that they’re known for - Giving comprises four tracks without lyrics, the shortest of which clocks in at five and a half minutes. From the off, we’re subjected to the inevitable martial beats that propel so much rock music of an instrumental persuasion. There’s a difference here, however. Instead of choosing to coat everything in reverb, Collections have opted for much more intimate, dusty tones, and fairly soon ‘Lawn’ breaks into some bold chording that’s far more immediate than epic. Shining synths and glittering banjo twinkle just below the surface, and around this point, Jon Mueller’s drumming breaks into something altogether more muscular, hefting the whole song along with it. Something evident from ‘Lawn’, and indeed from Giving as a whole, is how much fun Collections of Colonies of Bees seem to be having. The whole thing’s stuffed with exuberance to the point of bursting, and it makes Giving as much of a joy to listen to as I can only hope it was to make.
That said, Collections don’t simply rely on their ability to maintain energy and raise a smile. The complex call and response that builds at the opening of ‘Vorm’, a storm of understated pull-offs which is soon taken over by a relatively simple lead hook, and then some genuine stone-age chug, showcases the musicianship typical of Giving. Collections are a band clearly whose skill comes second to their actual songs, and they don’t feel the need to clout their listeners about the face with their instrumental knowhow. Likewise, the album demonstrates the band’s command over a range of moods – whilst it’s the record’s happiness that’s so striking at first, its evident from ‘Lawns’ that Collections can do autumnal reflection just as effectively as anything else.
Where much instrumental guitar music sees fit to barricade itself in mystery, length, and occasionally even outright po-facedness, Giving presents a welcome diversion. It’s a release that pitches its technicality (which make no mistake, it has in spades) perfectly against the kind of major-key verve not often found in a troupe as roadworn as Collections of Colonies of Bees, injecting some much needed vitality into vocal-less rock in the process.
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