The first track on Spirit of the Beehive‘s new album sounds like the very concept of music falling apart. Disjointed pieces of synth and guitar squeal, drums sputter, noise phases in and out, and only after about a minute and a half does it contain anything close to a melody. But by that point everything’s changed, the din falling away and transitioning into a gorgeous psychedelic folk track without any warning whatsoever. The band find their way to beauty only through a treacherous path of destruction and chaos. That song’s title, perhaps ironically, is “Entertainment.”
Entertainment, Death often feels like running a gauntlet of dead-ends, obstacles and pitfalls. It’s not an album that necessarily makes things easy for the listener, and it would probably be less interesting if it did. But it’s also a tricky thing to untangle. Spirit of the Beehive’s aesthetic is defined by disorientation as much as it is psychedelic pop melodies or woozy effects. The grinning, gape-mouthed carnival devil on the front cover of the album is as apt a greeting for this album as the band could have come up with. Entertainment, Death is a funhouse maze of a record—a thrill to experience and feel one’s way through, and often puzzling in the places it takes you.
Though Spirit of the Beehive are a rock band in the classic sense of the word, the way their songs are put together feel more like the surrealist electronic collages of someone like Oneohtrix Point Never. There’s a recurring two-chord guitar riff that drives “Give Up Your Life,” but it’s frequently interrupted by cut-and-paste electronic editing, odd sound effect placement and curious samples. On “It Might Take Some Time,” an ostensibly pleasant melody becomes damaged and frayed, like an XLII90 getting tangled up in a tape deck. And first single “There’s Nothing You Can’t Do” is considerably more bonkers; from an ominous gong clang and disembodied voices comes a looping guitar lick that creates as much of a rhythmic foundation as the beat itself. But what begins as a gently ominous pop song transforms into distorted, aggro overload more than halfway through, with phrases like “I’ll be your friend!” and “I’ll be your ‘soon’” screamed with the intensity of a threat.
During the standout single “The Server Is Immersed,” vocalist/guitarist Zach Schwartz puts into words the feeling of being inside this album’s sensory atmosphere: “Anywhere that you go, they will find you…dozed on Ativan, I was out of my mind.” “Sometimes I don’t think the words truly matter as much as the picture you paint,” Schwartz said back in 2019. The picture that Spirit of the Beehive paints on Entertainment, Death is sometimes bright, often hazy, and practically melting off the canvas.
Label: Saddle Creek
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.