Broken Social Scene – Bee Hives

Ridiculous expectations can do terrible things to great bands, but the effect they have on said band’s fans might be even worse. Sniveling, expectant little shits, the fans sit in the nest until momma bird comes back with a worm, and God help momma bird if that worm isn’t large enough. The baby vultures can make worthwhile, solid outings by bands into charred lumps of criticized decay, destined for all time to be the follow up to this, or the ugly sibling of that.
So it goes for Broken Social Scene’s new record, Bee Hives. Now, we all know that artists are mostly full of it, but sometimes it’s necessary to listen. Because if people had listened to the members of Broken Social Scene, they would know that Bee Hives, the follow up to 2002’s spectacularly popular You Forgot it in People, is nothing more than a B-sides and castoffs album. As such, it’s a pretty solid listen.
Fans who were curious enough to mine the band’s first record, Feel Good Lost, know that group progenitors Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning have always had an affinity for the ambient post-rock of their native Canada. It was an influence that was not totally lost on You Forgot it, but it’s one that people still seem surprised by. Bee Hives is a mostly instrumental album that heavily favors the fuzzy keyboard tones and heavy reverb of the band’s early work. Fans looking for a re-hash of the group’s jaw-dropping anthemic rock won’t find it here.
The disc opens with “Market Fresh,” one of only three new songs here. It’s a sublime acoustic track, with careening electronics and an insistent drum beat. It’s been available in Europe as a B-side for months now, but for those who haven’t heard it, it’s a welcome treat. “Ambulance for the Ambience” is markedly less successful, combining nearly unlistenable pitch-shifted vocals with plinking toy box piano. The other “new” song is “Backyards,” in which Emily Haines of Stars makes another appearance. The track relies on synthesized string textures, a galloping banjo, and Haines’ wistful, restrained vocals. It’s another lovely track, if not quite as affecting as “Market Fresh.” The only other track to contain vocals is a re-hash of “Lover’s Spit,” You Forgot It‘s stately, sexual slow jam. This time, Leslie Feist (of “Almost Crimes” fame) takes over vocal duties, as a piano pounds out the chords. It’s an intriguing reading of one of the band’s best songs, but it doesn’t come close to mustering the same sort of sonic grandeur the album version does.
The rest of the album is composed of instrumental tracks, and it’s during these parts that expectant listeners will chafe. The well-adjusted fan will be more appreciative, but to be honest, there’s not much here. The atmosphere-oriented tracks on You Forgot It – like “Shampoo Suicide” and “Pacific Theme” – succeeded largely because they shared the same drive as the rest of the album. Not so for the instrumentals here. “Weddings” is a slow, meandering mess, and “Time = Cause” doesn’t fare much better. Even “Da Da Da Da,” which picks up a steady drum track during its climax, fails to inspire. The only atmospheric track to make any sort of impression is “hHallmark,” a swirling mass of arpeggios, heart-beat drums and warm organ.
Bee Hives isn’t nearly as bad as people will tell you. It’s an extremely listenable album, and for those unfamiliar with indie rock – or even just Broken Social Scene – a first listen will probably yield pretty favorable reviews. There’s nothing discreetly unpleasant about Bee Hives, although you do get the impression the band could’ve done better. Where’s “Do the 95,” the companion B-side to “Market Fresh?” That would’ve at least bumped the tracklist up into double-digits. Some live tracks might’ve been nice as well, if for no other reason than to fill out a sparse song list. There’s nothing wrong with stopgap albums, especially when they’re explicitly names such. Bee Hives is a fine listen, though it’s far from truly compelling. There are glaring omissions. But for those not expecting too much, Bee Hives is an enjoyable listen from one of indie rock’s most vibrant young bands.