Artist: The Bad Bees
There are born singers. Singular voices who don't just survive but thrive in musically minimal environments. Not many instruments are as instantly recognizable as the voices of Sam Amidon (“I Wish I Wish”), Antony & the Johnsons (“Kiss My Name”), or Elliott Smith (“Angeles”). They nail it time and again with originals and covers, e.g. Hegarty's “Knockin' on Heaven's Door.” They do more with less, and can bring a tear to an eye with practically anything. (Sufjan Stevens' “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is proof of that.)
But there are others. Just as gifted. Maybe by ditching chorus class, they amassed a charisma befitting a particular setting. You can hear it in the rollicking spirit of the White Stripes (“Screwdriver”), the ghost of the hauntingly sinister Portishead (“Cowboys”), or that compelling hybrid of the two – which I term Evil Jack White mode – typified by the Wytches of the world (“Burn Out the Bruise”).
Then there's the middle ground, and that's where the Bad Bees' gifted vocalist puts in work. But before now, I haven't had a reference point for it, and the Bad Bees' song titles don't help. “Grey to Blue” brought to mind Billy Bragg's memorable “From Red to Blue,” but the bright noise was closer to “My Girls” (Animal Collective not Temptations). “Cowboy Coffee” recalled Modest Mouse's “Cowboy Dan,” but only insofar as it is a story-telling song name-checking something cowboy in nature. (And while the execution of both “Cowboy” songs is admirable, description of unlikable main characters will always have a limited capacity to affect real emotion in listeners.)
But after taking in all the Bad Bees' music, I finally found it. The reference point for vocalists who are not so distinct/one-note as to conjure comparison with the Tom Waits of the world (“Filipino Box Spring Hog”), but who cannot abide the self-limitation of indie folk. The comparison can be found in the Cold War Kids (“Go Quietly”). And like those major label indie rockers (an oxymoron?), in Jake Barbadoro the Bad Bees have a vocalist who can belt bluesy rock (“Where Ya Comin' From”), tip over into falsetto (“Supermoon”), or carry the lion's share of songs like “Harvest.”
More than that, because the Bad Bees build musical bridges spanning vast expanses – “Where Ya Comin From” (at 2:53) and “Harvest” (2:23) – the Bad Bees can go where most bands don't. It doesn't matter that “Supermoon” opens like Paul Banks' “Summertime is Coming” then Wavves' “Baseball Cards,” because the song changes. Then changes again. Percussive nuance serving as signposts for several prechoruses (:46/:59/1:12), which set up a slow-burning hook with distinct phases of its own (1:26 then 1:52). But like “Grey to Blue” (sounds/effects at :51), “Supermoon” really shines when the Bad Bees add colorful brush strokes to already sophisticated lines, applying layers of drums (2:18 then 2:32), guitars (at 2:25), and backing vocals (e.g. 2:39).
The standout tracks are “Grey to Blue,” which is what I hope the Bad Bees' “sound” is, as well as “Supermoon,” which showcases song-writing abilities that will keep fans excited regardless of any experimentation beyond that one “sound.” Add to that a singer who can do it all.
This guy could elevate Spotify ads to must-listen streaming.
*** The author of this review, Bobby Washington, plays the lambeg drum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8