Collections of Colonies of Bees: Customer

[13 January 2005]

By Peter Funk

Composed of textural guitarist Chris Rosenau and drummer Jon Mueller (both of Pele) Collections of Colonies of Bees provides on Customer a fascinating discourse on the melding of organic and electronic sounds. This is the first “large” label release for Collections of Colonies of Bees, having released past efforts in small print runs on various labels. They’ve taken an interesting approach creating two “different” cds through computer and electronic manipulation. The version of Customer released by Polyvinyl contains a mixture of live and electronic tracks, while the Japanese label Some of Us has released a version of Customer that is an exact opposite of Polyvinyl (i.e. tracks that are live on one are electronic on the other and vice versa). This manipulation of Customer demonstrates the Bees intention to use the music itself as a malleable tool, not just the instruments that come together to create it. Certainly naming nine of the album’s 10 tracks “Fun”—the 10th is called “Funeral”—can be taken as either an attempt to mask the music in anonymity or too elevate it beyond the critical tendency to over think things like track order and single potential, forcing the listener to consider the whole package before attempting to parse it into digestible segments.

I’m certainly never one to muddle about in the ideas of others or, for that matter, question where they originate from, but there must be a connection between Rosenau’s day job as a molecular biologist and the compositions presented on Customer. There’s a scientific symmetry to these songs, a natural organization that exists at the fringes like shadows constantly suggested to the listener but never defined. If you’ve ever seen a time-lapse photo sequence you probably have a good idea what Customer sounds like. But Customer paints sonic pictures that have more scope than the movement of a busy street over 24 hours or the travels of a seed from sprout to flower. The sounds of electronic crackle, hum, chirp, and chip juxtaposed against the organic strum of acoustic guitar or drums makes Customer feel much larger in scope. It’s as if Collections of Colonies of Bees are trying to say something about large scale evolution that encompasses both dust mites and space travel.

“Fun” number one is an odd assortment of clatter, most notably a hoof like clop, but segues seamlessly into “Fun” number two which opens with a combination of strummed guitar and live drum. As with a number of songs on the disc “Fun” the second has a hazy dribble of electronic warbling at the fringe of the song. The guitar actually provides a very melodic line with occasional bursts of percussive strumming that seem to strain to keep the song from take over by the non-organic elements of electronic fizzle.

“Fun” the third checks in at almost eight minutes long, unraveling in a slow almost tortured spiral. Rosenau’s careful guitar work and Jon Mueller’s drumming here wouldn’t seem entirely out of place on a Dirty Three album. The song is methodical in its unfolding, the seemingly random hiccups of percussive electronic noise acting not as anchoring elements but more as chemical catalyst.

On “Fun” the fourth, Mueller’s drumming, seemingly random and without focus, serves as the only non-electronic element in the mix. Sounds of UFO’s from early sci-fi movies butt against the scrape of what sounds like a blade on a sharpening stone, all the while Mueller’s not indelicate smacks seem to dance through the wash.

Customer‘s minor opus is “Fun” number eight. Checking in at just over eight and a half minutes the song is a perfect realization of all the “Fun” elements that have already come. The consistent pop of needle on vinyl white noise both undercuts and supports Mueller’s clattering drum rolls spilling from his set in randomly organized brigades. Rosenau’s guitar noodling falls so closely in line with the gurgling electronic sounds of previous tracks that it becomes a test of wills to discover which sounds are live and which are recorded ephemera.

Customer is not an easy listen. It’s one that requires attention, the kind of close attention that makes track names irrelevant to the development of the album as a whole. There are no singles or catchy samples, nothing overtly melodic, but there’s a great deal of reward slinking around the heart of these songs, a beautiful voice in a tule fog.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/collectionsofcolonies-customer/