In recent years, members of Milwaukee-based post-rock outfit Collections of Colonies of Bees have been highly active, albeit in projects that don’t bear the band’s name. The sextet teamed up with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for a stunning art-pop project with Volcano Choir’s Unmap. And earlier this year, band member Thomas Wincek spearheaded All Tiny Creatures’ outstanding Harbors, meshing the group’s dreamy, mathematical compositional style with ambient and pop, yielding something simultaneously more accessible and more abstract. When performing as a unit, however, Collections of Colonies of Bees lock into a glorious groove, blending technical proficiency with a profound grasp of melody, and though it’s been three years since their last proper full-length, 2008’s Birds, their return on new album Giving finds the band returning to a powerful and impressive form of instrumental rock.
Giving boasts only four tracks, and comes in about a minute shy of a half-hour. Yet the four tracks that comprise the album are so epic, and so heroic, that to attempt to continue that stretch would prove exhausting, if not ultimately rewarding. Moving in direct ascendancy from the shortest track (“Lawn,” 5:33) to the longest (“Vorms,” 9:13), Giving grows progressively mightier with each track, which is a feat in and of itself, because the juxtaposition of keyboard drone, finger-tapped guitars and hefty, militant drum fills on “Lawn” make for an opening that soars high from the get-go.
“Vorm” offers a slower build, as the band settles into a quasi-motorik groove, taking a more subtle approach toward a heavy-impact climax. The gentle, polyrhythmic chord harmonization on “Lawns” (raise your hand if the song titles get confusing) is hypnotic, yet absolutely gorgeous. As the lengthiest track on the album, however, “Vorms” takes a more gradual route, initially, yet also offers the one with the largest distance between its quiet, meditative introduction and its explosive, climactic breakdowns.
While recent projects have shown the talented gents of Collections of Colonies of Bees to be a powerful art-pop songwriting force, their strength as an instrumental unit is on full display on Giving. At times the band’s seemingly loose compositions seem like disciplined jam sessions, but when operating in a more dramatic fashion, they operate more like a bombastic rock band, with strings and snares smashing to the ground like lightning from the heavens. If there’s one thing that remains consistent throughout, however, it’s that irresistible groove.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.