Crate-Digging: Broken Social Scene – Bee Hives

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Arts & Crafts, 2004)

Care to take a detour? I know a nice scenic route we can follow at our own pace, free to feel the breeze through our open windows. It cuts across farmland and hills, past woodlands and lakesides, and the low mountains in the distance oversee the drive. It’s serene and open, quiet and relatively undisturbed. The spring air will fill your lungs and the sun will beat on your arm and shoulder as you lean against the car’s door. There’s no one around. It’ll be great.

Bee Hives is Broken Social Scene’s pastoral detour. Released as a stopgap between You Forgot It in People and Broken Social Scene, Bee Hives collects the studio scraps that were recorded prior to the former album as well as those that didn’t make the final cut. The band cleared out its closet, as it were, before moving on to their self-titled album, a sprawling and overstuffed collection that didn’t have room for anything unnecessary. But whereas the two albums that bookend Bee Hives are filled with majestic power pop and moments of psychedelic freakout brilliance and brim with hooks and melodies, this cast-off collection slows things down, reigns them in, and forces some thick, summertime streamside contemplation. In short, it’s a departure for BSS.

And I knew that, going into it. I’m a huge fan of theirs for the most part – the two albums I mention above are unrivaled in a lot of ways – but I was a bit wary knowing the rock would almost certainly be missing here. And I was right for the most part – these tunes take a more laid-back turn than listeners might be ready for, as beautiful instrumentals such as “Ambulance for the Ambience” and “Da Da Da” allow the band to relax, put their heads down, and create music that washes over you like a warm wave. These are lengthier compositions too, as BSS embraces the freedom a more ambient sound allows, exploring textures and colors more so than rhythm and structure. The cheekily titled “hHallmark,” a play on spelling that nods to guitarist Brendan Canning’s former band hHead, is the outlier, the meditation lasting less than four minutes.

But there are still sublime pop moments, as on the Kevin Drew-sung “Market Fresh” and the unbelievably gorgeous Emily Haines-led “Backyards.” The latter sprawls open majestically yet calmly like a family barbecue behind the hacienda. It’s familiar and safe, and you’re all invited to share in the good vibes. “Time = Cause,” a title flip of …In People’s “Cause = Time,” is a low-key meditation completely alien to the original. And “Lover’s Spit,” sung on …In People by Kevin Drew, is here cast as a stretched-out torch song by Leslie Feist, who makes it her own, draping her honeyed voice over the piano chords. (I almost said something like “Feist infuses it with a newfound gravitas” or something like that, but Broken Social Scene are nothing if not melodramatic, so Drew’s original is equally emotionally arresting.)

As b-side compilations go, this isn’t one of the best, but it certainly is one of the most pleasant and consistent, lacking the victorious highs of something like Pisces Iscariot or the crippling lows of anything backing Interpol singles. It can easily fall under the dreaded blog-four-letter-word term “hypnagogic pop,” allowing you to lay back on your picnic blanket and zone out under a tree.

What’s that? You wanted more snark with this one? Not today, chum.

RIYL: Stars, The New Pornographers, The Sea and Cake

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