For a brief time, it looked like Bumblebeez 81 were about to be the next big thing. The Australian duo’s first two EPs, White Printz and Red Printz were being put together for a US full-length release on Geffen records a buzz was growing. Then the album (appropriately titled The Printz dropped to a few raves, but also to more than a few noncommital grunts, which is kind of hard to imagine. Spin this disc even once, and you’ll understand both the hype and the varied reaction.
You’ve got to understand that Bumblebeez 81 come largely from art-school dropout Chris Colonna (yes, he’s one of them). Colonna comes across like a music nerd with some kind of chemical imbalance leading to hyperactivity. He constructs his songs by throwing in a little bit of whatever strikes his fancy and ad-libbing some jibber-jabber over them. When it works, it works. His beats are sporadic and wild, but they’re the foundational of some great bangers. “Step Back”, the track that boosted Colonna’s career centers on a dirty bass and simple percussion, but it grows until suddenly dropping to ambience (with distant screaming) and then building again. In the final third of the song, all kinds of sloppy noise breaks out over the steady beat, and that’s the group at it’s best.
“Step Back” sets the tone for what the group’s going to do. Colonna’s listened to plenty of types of music, and he wants to put it all in the pot and crank up the heat. He’s largely successful with this approach and sometimes very fun, such as when he ends “Pink Fairy Floss” with an old-school sounding vocal followed by a breakout of the song’s tight drums into a completely hand-drummed and marching-band mess. It really is fantastic, as are the yell-laced 101 seconds of “Let’s Go”, which doesn’t support sedentary listening.
Colonna’s sister Pia, aka ViLa, joins him on many of the tracks as the royal MC. She’s not lacking energy, but her rhymes just aren’t up to the level of Colonna’s musical constructions. Mostly she brings battle rhymes, but they’re not strong enough to be threatening, and not silly enough to be fun. When she opens “Pink Fairy Floss” with “Queen ViLa—no other lady MC can get illa,” I don’t respond to her braggadacio. I just wonder when the next instrumental comes in. When she claims to “think about the things that she said”, I just wish she’d think about the things she’s saying on the record. They’re not good. Unlike her lyrics, her sound works well in the mayhem going on around her. Bumblebeez 81 want nothing more than to pile up the controlled chaos, and she can help out with that job.
Bumblebeez 81 are often compared not inaccurately to Beck and the Beasties Boys, but these B-bands have some key differences. They’ve got Beck’s kitchen-sink-included aesthetic, but without the smart irony (or the hipster posturing). The Beez aren’t at all a serious group, but they lack the Beasties’ humor, which is probably both good and bad. Lyrically, the duo’s utterly forgettable. Musically, they have some stellar moments, but frenzied chopping and bouncing loses its frantic feel when it goes on for the course of a whole album. The Colonnas try to break up the album with ViLa’s raps, but that takes away from the music too much. What they need to learn to do is to shift moods while maintaining energy and creativity. In all his searching for influences and sounds and digital techniques, Chris Colonna needs to pause and check out some DJs. If he could add just a little RJD2 into his album structuring (though not necessarily his actual tracks), he could be poised to turn out a really fine album. If someone else writes ViLa’s lines, of course.
Bumblebeez 81 might not live up to their brief moment of hype, but it’s hard to be disappointed in them. They’ve got an interesting approach going, and their energy’s undeniable. However, being semi-raw and a little bizarre isn’t enough, and the sooner the Beez figure out what more they need to do, the sooner they could put together a really good album.