I’ve said this over and over, but I’ll say it a million more times – I’m concerned more about the death of a bee than I am about terrorism. Because we’re losing hives and bees by the millions because of such strong pesticides.
It’s not something we’ve spoke about much previously, but probably our biggest passion, just behind music anyway, is the plight of Bees. So please forgive us a slight detour into ecology and a discussion on arguably one of the greatest challenges facing this planet we live on. We’re not going to tell you it’s more important than music, because what’s the point of a life without enjoyment, but if we all die of starvation that’s not going to be good for record sales!
Honey Bees are the worlds greatest pollinator. Bees are responsible for the pollination of an estimated one third of the worlds food. Thinking about using this as an excuse to start living of steak and relying less on grains, fruit and vegetables? Well think again, because Bees are also key pollinators of clover and alfalfa, crucial crops used in, you guessed it, cattle feed. Not fussed about the people of the world dying out? Well you’re probably a Tory then, and Tory’s will be interested in another fact about Bees; back in 2008, the British Bee Keepers Association estimated that honey bees made a significant contribution to the £165 million annually generated for the UK economy through pollination by insects – so whether you care about people or cash, either way it’s in your interest to keep Bee’s alive.
“Why are Bees dying?” we hear you cry, well it’s a good question and one that so far has thrown up no easy answers. Factors vary from changing in farming practices, to increased susceptibility to parasites and disease and contamination by pesticides and pollutants. What is clear however, is that there has a been a rapid and worrying collapse in Bee numbers, via to a phenomenon known commonly as Colony Collapse Disorder. Best estimates in the UK place the losses in number of hives between twenty and forty percent, which is frankly terrifying. If nothing is done about this then we might all have to start agreeing with Private Frazier in his conclusion that, “we’re all doomed.”
What can be done about this? Well with the overall cause of the problem still unknown, it’s hard to say, but for starters the world should be taking a look at it’s pesticide usage. The pesticide companies themselves even admit that pesticides deliver direct toxicity to bees, if sprayed or released into fields when bees are foraging or if high levels contaminate hive food sources. These pesticides, that fall under the group Neonicotinoids, pose risks to Bees for a number of reasons; their presence in pollen and nectar, the soil which contaminates plants growing in the area, their potency at low concentrations and their increasingly widespread usage, all of which paint the picture of a dangerous untested chemical being delivered to Bees in a variety of low-level but continuous methods. Whether this is the cause of the collapse in Bee numbers or not, would we not be better off testing them first before we wipe out man’s real best friend?
The EU experts now agree with us. They admit that risk assessments were wholly inadequate and the consequences truly harrowing – so why exactly are our government considering an application from chemical companies to allow them to lift a ban on these lethal chemicals? Well they’ve got line their pockets with corrupt money somehow, haven’t they?
For more information, visit Friends Of The Earth – HERE
Sea Of Bees is essentially a pseudonym for the work of Julie Ann Baenziger. A native of Roseville, a suburb just outside Sacramento, the story goes that she grew up happy but lost, content with her life but lacking in any purpose. Her sister, perhaps concerned at her lack of direction, took her to church, and upon seeing an older girl singing she fell in love with both her voice and her. At that moment Jules knew that she wanted to be a musician, to share her songs with the world; years later, when she became See Of Bees that ambition became reality.
Of course, there was a lot of hard work along the way. For starters Jules had to learn to play an instrument, write songs and be heard. With the help of John Baccigaluppi the owner of a local practice studio, she learned to record music, to write music and how to express what she was capable of; she recorded her debut EP, Bee Eee Pee in just one day. It garnered enough attention for a deal with Heavenly Records and a full length album, the superb Songs For Ravens. This was released to widespread critical acclaim and was followed up rapidly by a second album Orangefarben, a heart-wrenching break-up album named after a nickname for an ex-girlfriend.
After that rapid rise to fame, and constant touring, a much needed hiatus occured and it is only now, three years later that the next stage of Sea Of Bees is emerging in the form of this album, Build A Boat To The Sun. Listening to this album it’s immediately clear there’s been a shift in the music Jules is making, not so much sonically but in it’s outlook on the world. The introverted, downbeat songwriting of previous releases has shifted, this is an album, that as it title suggests is about putting yourself out there and taking the voyage to discovering who you are. There’s no better example than the opening track, Test Yourself. Sonically it’s bright and breezy, a mesh of guitars, buzzing organs, ticking drums and lush-full layers of vocals; if there’s one band who spring to mind it’s the swaggering, confidence of The Kinks, all strutting guitar lines and strong-steady beats. Lyrically too, it’s a song about taking risks, “test yourself, go down to the belly of your deepest hell, you might find who you are”; it ends with complex round singing, multi-layered ambitious harmonies around the repeated sentence, “oh stay behind” and brings to mind the work of Cocorosie.
As well as a more confident world outlook, it’s an album that explores the possibilities of Sea Of Bees as a musical project. If the previous efforts were spare and minimal, Build A Boat To The Sun seems to look at the world and see the possibilities of where this music can go as endless. Karma Kard wouldn’t sound out of place on a Beach House record, all hazy, droning, reverb coated Dream Pop, glistening and pretty with a bass heavy heart holding it together, Dan is swampy and spacey with melodies that seem to nod to the likes of Space or JJ72 who characterised the back end of Brit Pop, while Don’t Follow Me is a warm, bright piece of country-folk reminiscent of Caitlin Rose at her most down-tempo.
Even when the music sticks to the sort of acoustic-melancholy that originally caught the worlds ear, lyrically there’s the feeling of wanting to escape the past. On the Villagers like acoustic ditty, Old Bridge, Jules is noting, “I’m leaving town, seeking higher ground, I’d rather be broke than stuck here” and latterly in a voice that’s laced with the rich tones of Tiny Ruins or Alessi’s Ark, she shows some rare resentment towards her lot, repeating the metaphor for her hometown “why did you leave me with the bees?” It’s one of the album stand out moments, and really rather beautiful. On Don’t Follow Me she pleads, “your life is in your own hands don’t wait too long for it to begin” and on Dad, a track coated with a classic 1960’s pop-vibe, we find her searching once more, “there must be a place where I can find my own way.” The sense of finding your place and yourself are constant’s throughout the album.
The albums closing track, Monk, is probably the best moment on the album. Starting off with gorgeous Beirut like harmonium pulses, it gently morphs into a ballad in the mould of one of her great heroes, Jenny Lewis (an influence she runs a little close on the intro to Little Sea which sounds almost exactly like Rilo Kiley’s Portions For Foxes). The track is laced with a quiet aching for an unidentified something, warm buzzing strings, gently melancholic acoustic strums and some of the most mournfully, heart-aching trumpets, it’s just undeniably sad with little in the way of clues as to the source of the sadness.
Build A Boat To The Sea is one of those rare albums where are an artist seems to step out of their comfort zone with a natural ease; it doesn’t feel like a conscious effort to evolve, just a natural progression. The music remains low-key, gentle and with a touch of melancholy, but where once Sea Of Bees sounded engulfed by the sadness, now they sound ready to face the worlds challenges head on. A small musical leap, but what could be a huge personal stride, and it opens up the even more intriguing question, of just where will this take her next.
Build A Boat To The Sun is out now on 3 Loop Music. Sea Of Bees are currently on a UK tour, that ends July 4th.