Bees In A Bottle – Treasures Ugly And Few – Album Review
In the rarest of rare slice of music that never disappoints, you’ll find the duo of Chad & Christine McAllister of Bees In A Bottle. I reviewed them for the first time back at the end of 2013, which qualified them to be eligible for our top-ten the following year, and I happily nominated their record Quiet Room to the list in 2014. Wasn’t too long afterwards that I purchased their Heartsleeve EP – which as some of you already know, was a record that was truly there for me when I needed it most. Looking back at our site now, I was surprised to find that I didn’t actually end up reviewing Heartsleeve – I suppose I just filed that one under awesome in my head and left it at that – it’s an amazing record. Thankfully I get another shot at making things right and can get back on the horse to spread the word – Bees In A Bottle are BACK in 2020 with a wonderfully expressive & evocative new album, Treasures Ugly And Few. More like Treasures Amazing And Many if you ask me, but what do I know anyhow?
I’m just a rabid Bees In A Bottle fan, as I’ve already made crystal clear.
Special shout-out to Chad & Christine for allowing me the opportunity to check this out in advance.
The opening is freakin’ FANTASTIC – “Language” was an immediate favorite and remained that way, no matter how many times I spun my way through this record. Like a blend between where Sarah Harmer meets the early records from The Breeders, “Language” has impeccable melody that can’t be beat; more than any one specific hook, this first cut delivers throughout its full length and instantly set the standard. You’ll find cohesion existing throughout this entire set-list…it all stacks up and these songs authentically sound like they belong together – and I dig that. Having said that, “Language” has got the most Indie-Alt-Rock-Underground radness going on, compared to any song you’ll find on this record. So there’s that…in my opinion, it’s a suit that Bees In A Bottle wear like a perfect fit – “Language” took me right back to my days discovering the awesomeness that existed just below the mainstream in bands like The Breeders, Belly, Throwing Muses…all that extremely cool stuff that’s still ahead of its time even now. Just killer tone in the bass, sparkling guitars, blissfully unique harmonies, melody, and song structure…you know, all in a day’s work for good ol’ Bees In A Bottle. A track like “Language” happening right at the outset of a record after about five years since their last record came out is an audible confirmation that great music truly takes time…and that it’s all been worth the waiting. “There is a home in you, I’ve grown accustomed to, but I’m not prepared to lose…” – beautiful sentiment, expressed as naturally & organically as Bees In A Bottle are known for doing, with all the authentic feels attached.
Christine is crushin’ it once again throughout this record…I mean, they both are obviously, but given that she’s the one consistently up front on the mic, her stunning vocals are quite often what will reach your ears first, or leave the strongest lasting impression. “Language” is a solid enough example already to prove my claims to be true, but if ya got any doubts about what I’m saying, carry on into “Only 23” and you’ll absolutely understand what I’m saying is the objective reality, not just the ravings of a lunatic fan. Listening to Christine hit the high notes of “Only 23” nearly thirty-seconds in was awesome; it’s a great twist on the melody in the structure of this tune and she nails her vocals with trembling confidence and spot-on tone. I dig the vibes from the very beginning – but I loved the switch around two-minutes and the transition that occurs at that point…I think given that everything beforehand is so naturally catchy, that the breakdown in “Only 23” stands out brilliantly. Really liked how the main rhythm guitar interacts with the lead so distantly in the background…there’s a lot of depth in the music that Bees In A Bottle make, especially when you consider it’s all created by just two superhuman songwriters. Listen to “Only 23” tick by the two-minute mark and how incredibly extraordinary this song becomes…the kind of moment where, if you thought you were enjoying yourself before, will redefine just how much you love this record in an instant. Moments like this…with the amount of gravity, insight, imagery, poetry, and emotion involved…are pretttttttttttttty much the reason I exist and get out of bed each & every day.
“Cowboy Lullaby” is straight-up captivating. You’ll get a shout-out to the title of this record in the lyrics of this tune…but beyond that little trivia tidbit, LISTEN to the magical and stunning use of space on this song will ya? Listen to the layers of vocals! Listen to the humble purity that Christine sings this song with! Listen to the slow strum of guitar that gives this cut such character! “Spectacular shivers,” as Christine sings at the beginning of this tune…and that’s exactly what you’ll get as this song starts to blossom into its emotionally powerful & boldly subtle epicness. In my heart of hearts, I can only hope that a song like “Cowboy Lullaby” gets the recognition it deserves…this better not be a cut that gets passed over by a single one of you out there reading this right now…”Cowboy Lullaby” should be exactly the kind of remarkably humble melody you’re always hoping to find, but so rarely do. To me, this is a perfect example of a song that contains the same essential ingredients you know & love from Bees In A Bottle, but wouldn’t likely have been a cut they could have created on their album Quiet Room way back when – it’s songs like this that reveal just how much they’ve evolved and still stayed true to their style. Loved the use of piano to punctuate the melody of “Cowboy Lullaby” – but the real award here goes to both the production on the vocals and the performance as well. Absolutely sparkling and as sincere as it gets…you can get attached to this song like you wouldn’t believe…I know I certainly did, it’s beautiful; it’s equally heartbreaking in its demeanor…but its undoubtedly beautiful too, that’s 100% indisputable.
By the time this review is finished…I’m gonna finally put my finger on what Bees In A Bottle remind me of in their performance of “Always Gonna Do It” – I’m making a commitment to figuring it out before I post this, it’s been eluding me from day one but I can feel the name about to bubble up in the back of my brain…is it Elliott Smith? I think it IS! Yay ME! Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep tonight finally, after wracking my brainwaves for weeks trying to put my finger on that assessment. Honestly…you have no idea how relieved and happy I am to have finally put that puzzle together. In any event…what freakin’ low-key brilliance on display from Bees In A Bottle here…this is another extraordinary cut from Treasures Ugly And Few. Listen to the breakdown around the first minute will ya? That’s another one of those moments where it seemed like we couldn’t have asked for any more than we were already getting from Chad and Christine, yet here they are, finding ways to twist their melodies, structures, and sounds, just that one step further to create unforgettable moments inside the songs you’ll find all throughout this album. The flow of “Always Gonna Do It” has that sleepy push/pull energy in its movement and a heavy emphasis on the role that the vocal melody plays a role to the sleek design of this tune; I’d reckon it might not be the song that everyone notices on those first couple spins perhaps, but after some exposure to this album, the people out there will come to appreciate just how much a track like this strengthens the lineup overall. Kinda hard to find faults where they don’t exist though, you feel me? Every song you’ll find on this record has earned its place on Treasures Ugly And Few, no doubt about it.
At her most vulnerable, Christine puts on an isolated show of strength on “Easy Enough,” which is one of the album’s quietest, intimate, and revealing moments. I’m all about it…I could listen to Christine sing the phonebook, so the threadbare minimalism in the atmosphere of “Easy Enough” was perfect for me; she gets the opportunity to really carry the weight of the melody at the core of this song mainly on her own. Loved the warm glow on the guitars of this song…loved the harmonics and the mix between the low-end & high-points of the melody driving the music on “Easy Enough” too. She’s both singing-out her pain here, and singing directly to it, almost in a confrontational way, or at least ready to acknowledge the weight of her thoughts, feelings, and experiences…summoning her strength for what could perhaps be “Easy Enough” some days, but can be so unpredictably difficult at others depending on our emotions. Given the sparseness of sound at work here, it’s up to Christine to pull this one off – not like there’s any doubting her at this point, she’s been flawless so far – and she remains that way…even when there might be a corner or two that could potentially be rounded out or smoothed out even further, she makes the right decisions to suit what the song truly calls for with the way she chooses to sing it. I think she gives an extraordinary performance to “Easy Enough” – the intimate & evocative approach to the vocals counts for a ton on this track and how that retains our interest with so few ingredients at work; I don’t think you could ask a single thing more from either of them than exactly what they give ya here.
Up to about the halfway mark on this record, Bees In A Bottle have played this set in a fairly low-key manner when it comes to pace & energy, which they pick up noticeably as the second-half begins with “Liar.” Where am I at with this…let’s see, let’s see…I mean, aside from the obvious – it’s Bees In A Bottle, so of course I like what I hear. I’ll say this…I’m probably more usually inclined to love their slowest tunes and melodies overall when push comes to shove – but that’s me on a personal level…if I’m looking at their catalog in terms of what’ll reach the people out there, “Liar” is easily among their most accessible tunes. I don’t want anyone out there to get me wrong – this is a fantastic tune…I might be more partial to a downtrodden energy overall, but that’s just who I am and it’s what I naturally gravitate to – I’d never take any points away from a song like “Liar” or how engaging it is. I’d also be willing to bet it’s a real highlight when they play live as well…you can hear that a track like “Liar” has that widespread appeal and catchy melody that is bound to snare even the most resistant set of ears out there in the audience. As in…*cough *cough…I’d probably be looking at this as a *cough *cough…single…know what I mean Bees? “Liar” is just about as universal as it gets, and the main one-line hook that Christine uses for the chorus of this song is about as enticing as you’d ever hope for…you can feel that melody hit ya full-on, and it sticks with you…whether you know the words or not, you’ll instantly start singing along with this cut – I can pretty much guarantee it & proudly speak from firsthand experience, scout’s honor.
One of the best surprises on this record is what you’ll discover on “Love Will Find A Way” – because it’s nearly right outta left field, and something I’d consider to be a fairly new dimension in the sound & style of Bees In A Bottle compared to what we’ve heard before in the past from them. Sounds like they’ve got a cello goin’ on, some stand-up bass perhaps…everything is set deep in the background perfectly, with the slight twinkling of keys, and a jazzy, smoky-lounge style atmosphere that puts the art in their craft on full display. As artistic as I’ve ever heard these two flex their creative muscles, “Love Will Find A Way” is probably on the fringe-side of what you’d have ever expected from this duo…but the stunning results of this ambitious adventure are going to win over a ton of their fans, and bring in a whole bunch of potential new ones to Bees In A Bottle as well. Or at the very least, it should! Diversity & creativity like this should be fully encouraged; especially when you can hear how well the uniqueness of a song like “Love Will Find A Way” suits them. As different as it might be for them in comparison to a great many, if not all of their tunes, it still comes out with that impressively organic & natural, unforced sound that we love this band for. Personally, I love moments like this where you can hear a band or an artist branching out further than they have in the past and building on their strengths – it takes confidence to morph your music in a different direction than what the people expect to hear, and it’s moments like “Love Will Find A Way” that confirm the risk is always worth the potential reward. An artistic slam-dunk – Bees In A Bottle aren’t one iota less than completely & totally impressive on this compelling gem.
Back to what the Bees have built their reputation on, the heavy emotions that run through the sound of “To Pass Not To Stay” are as beautiful as they are sad, filling the atmosphere with contrasting emotions that could just as easily bring a smile to your face as it could tears to your eyes. I’ll say this…in many ways, a song like “To Pass Not To Stay” is the playbook of Bees In A Bottle 101 in some respects…it’s definitely within their wheelhouse is what I’m sayin’ – BUT…with that being said, LISTEN to how much they’ve evolved in how they approach the performance & production compared to what we’ve heard in the past, and you’ll hear a new clarity & beauty that thrives in the music they’re making today. Really smart use of the background vocals on “To Pass Not To Stay,” and overall, it’s got a palpable mix of emotion in the way the music is played that could rival the lead vocals from Christine, which gives the entire song a real balance between its elements to establish the strength of the connection it creates. We float along with Bees In A Bottle here, drifting along with the gentle & sweet sway of the acoustic guitar and soul-soothing vocals…songs like this one preserve the charm & poetic nature of their legacy and provide depth to the lineup on Treasures Ugly And Few in ways your ears can’t help but appreciate.
Without a doubt, one of the most powerful cuts on this record is “Moment Of Waking Up.” This band…I tell ya…when they wanna tug on your heartstrings as hard as possible in the most gentle, delicate, and fragile of ways…they sure can, and they consistently nail this in their music, every single time they make a record. I get chills every single time Christine sings her way just past the first minute mark…the words she’s written into this tune are exceptional…lyrics that’ll bury themselves right into the thick of your heart. I also think that in that same moment, they reveal one of the record’s strongest hooks overall, and they use it so sparingly on “Moment Of Waking Up” it hurts! It’s awesome to hear the surge in Christine’s voice as she summons her confidence & energy to put the power behind her words as she sings. Like all great songs with outstanding words, what makes them connect is the performance itself; and in the imagery, thoughts, and feelings coming straight to the surface through the way Christine sings this song, you not only know that she’s feeling every moment of this song, but so are we as a result. Loved that the piano shows up again for this song…that’s always a great fit into the Bees In A Bottle sound, and it plays quite a significant role in driving the subtle melody of “Moment Of Waking Up.” It’s got the most understated finale of any song on the record…and it’s completely spellbinding, setting up the fascinating sound of the final song to “Follow” as perfectly as any lineup of tracks could provide.
“Follow” is a genius ending and a captivating final cut on Treasures Ugly And Few. Slightly haunting, slighty mysterious, built on curious sound, pensive melody, and questioning lyricism, Bees In A Bottle deliver a remarkable highlight at the end of their album that completely captures the interest of the ears through its thought-provoking lyricism and genuinely mesmerizing results. Vocally, I think there’s an argument to be made that Christine is ending this album on one of her strongest performances, if not THE strongest you’ll find. Credit where credit is due though – everything stacks up perfectly here on “Follow” – this is exactly how you want to end an album, because we’re literally hanging on to every single note played and word sung, completely on pins & needles as we exit Treasures Ugly And Few. Truly intriguing…this last tune is the kind of song that tells a tale you need to hear to its conclusion to satisfy your curiosity in full, leading your mind on a path that you’ve gotta “Follow” through to the end. Interesting at the very least, more likely to be assessed as straight-up hypnotic, captivating, mesmerizing – “Follow” is all that & more…it’s enchanting & inviting…it’s a sensory experience that kinda defies description when it comes right down to it, but lemme tell ya, it makes for one truly incredible ending.
I’m beyond stoked to have Bees In A Bottle back in action this year and sounding as spectacular as they are on Treasures Ugly And Few…I know they didn’t make this record for me personally, but I can certainly pretend…given that every song on the album completely appeals to me, it’s easy enough to imagine. Every time I hear them, they just get better & better – there’s no doubt that this album shows them at their most emotionally involved, and the most evolved in their approach to production, songwriting, and performance as well…you could make a great argument that this is indeed, the best of the Bees so far. Even as a fan for as long as I’ve known about them now, they exceeded every hope I could have had for their return and have created another album in Treasures Ugly And Few that’s absolutely essential to your playlists this year if you really want to consider those lists of yours complete.
The album gets officially released on March 28th this year and it’s available for pre-order right now! Donate your liver or slap down some dollars so you can do your ears a favor – Bees In The Bottle are sounding better than ever on Treasures Ugly And Few – circle the date on those calendars of yours and BEE ready (see what I did there?) – you’re gonna want to make sure you’re among the first to get this album when it drops. Find Treasures Ugly And Few available for pre-order right here: https://beesinabottle.bandcamp.com/album/treasures-ugly-and-few-2
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