After taking the world of music on a big nostalgic and trippy journey on their 2002 Mercury Prize-nominated debut Sunshine Hit Me, the UK sextet A Band of Bees have outdone themselves on Free the Bees, unjustly snubbed for said prize this year. Free the Bees is a psychedelically-laced pilgrimage through the world of oldies radio stations (the good ones) with a kaleidoscopic divination through deep Hammond organ licks. One could say that Free the Bees contains a bit of Beatles spunk to it, which is something that happens naturally to albums such as this one that are recorded in EMI Studio No.2 , the same one that facilitated the Fab Four themselves.
“These Are the Days” is ideal lava lamp listening and…Wait! Change that. It’s like what would happen if you drank the contents of a lava lamp. Warning: Do not try to drink lava lamp contents. The song is hallucinogenic enough as it is. “Wash in the Rain” has a barefoot-in-the-grass hippie grooviness and even a similarly congruent rhythm reminiscent of the Small Faces “Itchykoo Park.” “No Atmosphere” throws in a pinch of funk with an aerated regularity that makes it ideal for a carousel ride. The Bees even buzz into a level of Moody Blues-minded coral orchestrations on the pop stride of “Horseman” as “The Start” gallivants into Pet Sounds topography.
Let’s talk movies for a second. Even though I am not a film critic I have seen enough flicks to know when and where to say my piece. The track “Chicken Payback” would be perfectly placed in the next Quentin Tarantino movie in a scene where a character is getting robbed, swindled, beaten, killed, conned, or involved in any other kind of violent acts that would truly give it that Tarantino feel. The song has a Motown shimmy and a stratum of coolness that even Fonzie couldn’t live up to. Also, the Bees even show that they are international men of mystery with the winding Afro-jazz groove of “The Russian,” which sounds like a Mancini or Schifrin’60s action movie score.
“Hourglass” shines with some sunshine pop whereas “Go Karts” is like a barrage of freaky circus clowns invading a courtyard at Strawberry Fields. It even seems as if Roger McGuinn had cast a mysterious spell on the studio sessions when “One Glass of Water” was recorded.
Every song on this album resonates the sounds from one of those sixties music compilations that are advertised on infomercials at 3 in the morning as A Band of Bees add a modern twist to the vibes of all the great music from the Summer of Love. It comes from a magical place, circa 1967, between London’s Carnaby Street and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. In short, Free the Bees is by far the best album that you never stumbled across in your hippie parents’ old record crates.