Friday, May 13, 2011

Collections of Colonies of Bees - Birds

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I first discovered Wisconsin natives Collections of Colonies of Bees around the time Volcano Choir (one of Justin Vernon's miscellaneous side projects) released their debut album Unmap. Why? Well, Volcano Choir is actually made up of all but one member of the Wisconsin quartet along with Vernon himself in addition to a couple former members. What appealed to me about Collections of Colonies of Bees is its purely instrumental nature- that similar type of sound that's been popularized by Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai (to a lesser extent as they occasionally use vocals). Their latest release as Collection of Colonies of Bees however, happened around 3 years ago with 2008's Birds.

Birds is a veritable rock symphony composed solely of four tracks of varying lengths, the whole album is about 37 minutes long. Each track named solely "Flocks" along with the corresponding track number is built on a different theme and yet seems to organic flow from each idea to the next. "Flocks I" begins with start-stop minimalistic guitar strums that transform into scalar climbs, slowly incorporating instrument after instrument before launching into a triumphant cluster of sounds held together with the steady beat of the drums. "Flocks II" begins with a sort of barely there ethereality before the entrance of the drums propels it to action. Distant guitars and electronics keep the track afloat before they subtly make their way to the forefront along with simple, glistening keyboard lines. "Flocks III" follows in a similar manner, starting off with a formless adagio section before the entrance of other instruments - in this instance the guitar and drums together nudge it towards a sense of order. "Flocks III" rather unlike the rest of Birds is noticeably constructed of different parts. After building to a climax, all sound halts and the band starts afresh putting forth new ideas to build off of. In a sense it's not unlike the classical minuet and trio, if only for its formal separation of musical ideas. "Flocks IV" might be the only track on Birds to follow any of the more popular songwriting conventions. It's simple guitar melody is the stuff good pop songs are made of, though it would be easy to just layer vocals on top, Collections of Colonies of Bees goes the more difficult route and instead layer more sounds on top before introducing driving beats that enable for variation and a bit of showmanship as the band are then able to construct solos that then become part of the melody itself.

Birds is an album that basically demands to be listened to over and over again. With no lyrics to distract the listener, it instead focuses on meaty musical statements and small musical ornamentations that reveal themselves more and more with each listen. There's no dramatic flair and yet, it manages to draw you in and entertain you without even appearing to do so. At no time do you realize the length of the track because each idea manages to metamorphoses just as you begin to recognize it.

Get a taste of Collection of Colonies of Bees with a music video for "Flocks II":

While Birds is a pretty fantastic album, there's also rumors that Collections of Colonies of Bees are set to release a new album sometime this year with Hometapes. So stay tuned for more!

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