Collections of Colonies of Bees: Customer

Peter Funk

It's a fascinating discourse on the melding of organic and electronic sounds.

Collections of Colonies of Bees


Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2004-10-26
UK Release Date: 2005-01-10

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.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.