Posts Tagged 'Sea of Bees'

Chamomile Tea and Crème Brûlée with Sea of Bees

I regularly get download links for new albums, but few have excited me more this year than the link to Orangefarben, the sophomore album by Sacramento native, Jules Baeziger of Sea of Bees. What was the story behind the odd album title? Had she retained the wide-eyed naïvety that made her debut, Songs for the Ravens, so sincere?

Sea of Bees (Photo Gabriella Clavel)

I had the chance to hear Jules play a few of her new songs at Pianos in February. Then following the show, we headed out to The Pink Pony, just a few doors up on Ludlow, to catch up.

“I love this place!” Jules said as we walked in. We settled into a small candlelit table along the wall. And, after surveying the menu, we decided on a couple of cups of chamomile tea and some crème brûlée to share. It had been a busy week for Jules, but even after playing eight nights in a row, she was still in high spirits. “I thrive off of how people in the audience are,” she explained. “So sometimes, even though my throat hurts, I still just give it my all because you’re sharing something so important, and something so fragile, and you want to show the true passion. It’s important.” And it’s this passion and zeal for life that seems to animate Jules – both as a singer/songwriter, and as a person.

Just then our crème brûlée arrived. There are people who are pleasant to their waitresses. And then there’s Jules. “Oh my goodness, thank you!” she said to our waitress. “That looks beautiful!”

The Pink Pony

From the first time I saw Sea of Bees play in New York, I knew there was something special about her. A few minutes into her set, and you think, “how charming.” Ten minutes later, and you can almost picture the two of you riding bikes down sunny streets together.  She draws you in with her child-like wonder, candid banter, and complete sincerity. If a bird happened to land on her shoulder mid song, you wouldn’t bat an eye. She’s that kind of person.

But it wasn’t easy for Jules. Growing up in the church, she struggled with her attraction to girls and grew unhappy. “Actually, if I’m being really honest, I thought before I met John [her friend and manager]… I thought I wouldn’t be here in life. I was suicidal before I met John. I was playing in a band for a bit, but I was like ‘I don’t think I’m going to be here much longer if I can’t be in love and I can’t do my music. What’s the point of being here?’ […] I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t want to work for nobody. I wanted to make music. I wanted to love a girl!”

The first time she picked up a guitar it was for a girl in church.

“I was 15? 16. She sang with her brother. I thought she was beautiful inside and out. Very frail. Loving. She and her brother had beautiful vocals together and they played the guitar. I want to do that. I want to express myself that way, passionately. I want to show her that I can do that, too. […] I played one string on the guitar to learn it for like two years. It was very frustrating. And I’m not trying to be cool, ‘Ah, I learned on one string, here’s my story.’ I just wanted passionately wanted to do it. And it was work, but I was drawn to it, I think for a reason.”

“Do you remember the first song you wrote?” I ask.

“Yeah!” she laughs. “It was for her.” She starts to sing. “It was like, ‘I’m sitting in the corner, thinking about you. Thinking what you’ve done. How you’ve saved my soul.'” She drops the song, and shakes her head. “But it wasn’t about Jesus. It was about her. She saved my soul knowing that I could feel that way about a woman.”

Nothing ever happened with her childhood crush, but eventually, Jules met Lisa, her “Orangefarben.”

“It was pretty crazy. Because it took a long fucking time. And all of the sudden, there she is – at a table where I’m making coffee on the other side. She’s sitting there with her bowl haircut and her nice tight jeans and her salmon dressy shirt. Green pretty blue eyes. She’s looking at me like no one has ever looked at me before. She saw me that way. […] So I looked at her and I was wearing this nice vintage outfit that day. You know, not the Partridge family – the Brady Bunch. And I walk in, and I start wiping down her table. […] And the way she was looking at me, it was like her eyes would not stop looking into my soul, and I couldn’t shake it. It was so nice. […] After that she wouldn’t leave me alone!”

“So wait. What does ‘orangefarben’ mean?” I ask.

“The color orange. It’s because when I first met her, actually that night when we held hands on the rug. We stayed in the whole night, and then we got hungry. And I was like, ‘There’s a co-op across the street, let’s walk to it.’ It was closing, but my friends kept it open and we grabbed some fruit. It was the only thing they could sell. So I grabbed an apple, she grabbed an orange, and we went for a walk outside because we had to leave. And she was like, ‘I can’t open this orange!’ And I was like, ‘Let me do it, let me do it,’ and we were laughing, and I’m looking at her and was trying to show off. Instead I ripped the orange, and it was bleeding all over my hands. I called her my ‘orangefarben.’ ‘You’re my apfel then,’ she said. And ‘apfel’ is German for apple. And it was just a wonderful story. I didn’t sing that song, but girl, I showed her my town, and we felt so strong and in love. She did, too. It but it was like a story in a movie, but beyond that because it was real. Yeah, it was wonderful.”

Sea of Bees (Photo Gabriella Clavel)

The two have since parted ways, but from the experience came the album.

“So it’s a break-up album, but it’s not sad or bitter,” I begin.
“No,” says Jules.
“But you know. For most people, it is those things. They don’t write about it like you do. So why did you approach it that way?”
“Because I love her very much. […] She’s very important to me. I see some things other people don’t see I guess. […] Everyone has a misery, but she’s too good for that. She’s too cool for that. I think every love is too good for that. She didn’t deserve that and neither did I. We deserved to be happy. We deserved to be encouraged. And why write an album that’s not fulfilling or full of life? And I want it to be full of life for her. You know, there’s always so much misery in peoples’ lives, including mine and hers, but we needed it. We needed love, and I think it’s true love.”

“So are you in love right now?” I ask, an unscripted question.

“Mmm I’m not in love right now. I’m learning to love myself. and be powerful to myself and know what I like, know who I am, know what I can do, know how far I can go. You know. Know all the details of me. I think love comes when you are least growing, and I think I’m just beginning to grow.” She pauses and looks over at me with a smile on her face. “‘Are you in love right now?’ Rachel!” She laughs.

“Ok. I have one more question for you,” I say. “Can you describe your perfect day for me?”

And because it’s Jules, her long, thoughtful response includes wildflowers, rings, a walk on the beach, making out, a nice bath, cooking, watching a movie, and talking. “That is a perfect day. That is a nice day right there,” she says. “No work no nothing. I have that day every day,” she says.

Here’s Jules playing one of her new songs at Pianos:


End of the year best, round one: Shows

2011 may technically be a thing of the past, but what’s a few more lists, right? I’ll begin the trio with my favorite shows of the year. This list is always the most fun to put together because unlike the best songs or best albums, the list of contenders is limited to the shows that I managed to catch.

There are so many factors that go into a good show: the crowd, the venue, the sound, the music, and even the stage banter and my mood. All too often, concerts leave me rather indifferent. Here are a handful of the shows that I won’t soon forget.

13. Timber Timbre + Angel Olsen – Glasslands, April 14th*
Of course, we’ve already established that Angel Olsen is a delight, so seeing her open for Timber Timbre was a nice treat – especially on such a small stage! For the late night show, Glasslands underwent a dramatic transformation. Usually whimsical and cozy, for Timber Timbre’s set, the venue transformed into an eerie, lantern-bedecked cavern, which mirrored the Canadian group’s spooky blues sound perfectly.

12. Lykke Li + Grimes – Webster Hall, May 18th*
Maybe it was the sheer spectacle of Lykke Li dancing and prancing on stage or her amazing charisma – whatever the case, this was a solid show (even if Li’s album, Wounded Rhymes, didn’t hold up for me). Of course it didn’t hurt that Grimes, “the sound of the future” according to one music fan I spoke to, held the opening slot. These women will challenge even the most aloof hipster to get down.

Lykke Li (Photo Chris Jobling)

11. M83 + Active Child – Music Hall of Williamsburg, November 23rd*
From Anthony Gonzalez’s introductory yelp (“Carry on! Carry on!”), M83 was an unstoppable force. They exuded confidence and competence in equal measure – a rare feat these days.

10. Bon Iver + The Rosebuds – United Palace Theatre, August 9th*
I don’t expect Bon Iver’s 2011 release to make the cut for best albums, but there’s no denying it – that man’s voice could cure a cripple, enough so that I was even willing to give that ridiculous saxophone solo a pass.

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (Photo Renee)

9. Mount Eerie + Wyrd Visions – St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church, June 19th* (Northside Fest)
Northside Fest brought some great artists to town in June, Mount Eerie, and this show was the highlight for me. Given the reverence lavished upon Phil Elverum by his fans (I turned into a giggling mess at the merch booth myself when I finally got my hands on The Glow, pt. 2 on vinyl), it only seemed right to watch the show from church pews. (Much love for Wyrd Visions, too!)

8. St. Vincent with Cate le Bon – Webster Hall, November 3rd*
Perhaps one of the most flawless and powerful performances I saw all year – Annie Clark brings it.

St. Vincent (Photo Guus Krol)

7. Feist + Mountain Men – Church of the Intercession, October 3rd*
This show was certainly a surprise – for me and the hundred or so others in attendance. It’s not often you find yourself at a crypt in Harlem – especially with an orchestra, Leslie Feist, and the lovely women of Mountain Man. Definitely a treat.

Feist (Photo Jill Mapes)

6. Sea of Bees – Rockwood Music Hall (stage 2), October 21st (CMJ)
Good God, Jules Baeziger left me breathless with this one. In the midst of all the prefab beats, glitz, glitch, and hype that comes with CMJ, an intimate Sea of Bees set was just what I needed. I think I cried at this one. Multiple times. So good.

5. PJ Harvey – Terminal 5, April 19th*
Yes, it was Terminal 5, but come on. We’re talking PJ Harvey here. I could hardly believe I was in the same room as her, let alone listening to her play from my perch in the VIP balcony. Cat Power may have been a bust last year, but PJ Harvey? Untouchable.

PJ Harvey (Photo Il Fatto Quotidiano)

4. Austra – Emo’s, March 17th (SXSW)
I definitely didn’t know when I was getting into when I stepped into the Domino showcase at Emo’s last spring. With SXSW, it’s always a temptation to dart from show to show, but Austra definitely caught my eye, and I think you’ll see why…

3. Sufjan Stevens + Diamond Rings – Prospect Park, August 3rd*
Despite the fact that rain poured down on us for upwards of three hours, the mood at the park was ecstatic. Swirling neons, giant blow-up men, quick choreography, ridiculous costume changes, Kat Martino’s solo, and beach balls were just a few of the things that made this show pop. Epic in every sense of the word – and worth every drop of rain.

Sufjan Stevens (Photo Jon Uleis)

2. John Maus – 285 Kent, October 19th* (CMJ)
Stepping into this show (another Domino showcase) felt like stepping back in time when music still mattered enough to make you forget everything else and embrace the moment in all its sweaty, smokey glory. Like a cult leader, Maus writhed and shook on stage with fervor as the music swept over the room of his unquestioning followers. Magic.

John Maus (Photo Stephan CK)

1. Laura Marling – Audio Visual Arts Gallery, September 28th*
A private song with Laura Marling? Hands down my favorite music moment of the year.

Picture me and Laura sitting in this room (Photo RK)


CMJ picks from the other side

Well, I managed to see about 46 bands last week. (47 if you include the 30 seconds I saw of Idiot Glee.) You can read about it here, on Brooklyn Vegan. But you can listen to it here.

At the end of the week, these are the artists that stood out to me the most:

(First, the weird)

Chelsea Wolfe – easily one of the most talked about artists all week… and one of the most interesting to watch. Wolfe sang from behind the veil of her long black hair. The next Zola Jesus / Austra? We’ll see.

Chelse Wolfe (photo Eliot Lee Hazel)


Young Magic – the balance this Brooklyn group strikes of hip-hop and dark electro pop had me transfixed.

album art for Young Magic (someone get these guys some press photos)


Tropical Popsicle  – This San Diego group embodies the popular lo-fi, shoegazey garage rock of the moment… but they do it better. Instead of boring me, Timothy Hines’ deadpan delivery sucked me in.

Tropical Popsicle (photo Marissa Parsons)


John Maus  – Seeing Maus was like stepping back in time to a place when people still cared about music and really felt it. That can’t be conveyed in an audio clip. See him. The crowd’s allegiance to this man is truly cult-like.

John Maus

(Then the lovely)

Sea of Bees – I simply cannot get enough of Sacramento’s Jules Baeziger. Her honesty, earnestness, and charm are so refreshing. And her lyrics! I love it all. (And how good does this recording sound, right?)

Jules Baeziger of Sea of Bees (photo Nick Miller)


Gem Club – a heart-meltingly beautiful three-piece out of Somerville, MA. Totally unlike anything else I saw all week. Instead of rushing out to catch another set, I stayed and wanted more.

Christopher Barnes of Gem Club (photo Charlie Engman)


Who did you fall in love with?

SXSW, day two

1,655 miles in the air

171 miles on the road

4 miles on the bike

I’ve come a long way for this week, and it’s hard to believe it all passed by so quickly – especially considering the fact that I was up about 20 hours a day. While CMJ seems to stretch on and on, my first SXSW flew by. (Maybe it had something to do with the fact that ‘home base’ was a hotel room shared with friends and not my own familiar apartment.)

One-and-a-half hours of sleep is not a solid foundation to build your SXSW week on, but somehow, it worked. The rush of the week and the promise of abundant (free) tacos, music, and beer kept me going.

I had intended to post an update at the end of each night, but my plans quickly fell through when I realized that I needed that time to plan out the next day’s activities.

walking down 6th Street (photo H. Michael Karshis)

Allow me to catch you up now.

Day 2

My computer clock’s preference for Eastern Standard Time meant I accidentally ended up downtown an hour earlier than necessary (precious sleeping time!), but it also meant I had time for some free food courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan and a quick set from the adorable Savoir Adore. As is often the case at SXSW, the band had to compete with overflowing music from neighboring venues, but they still managed to  engage the audience with their fun hand motions and polished sound.

Savoir Adore RIYL The Love Language (photo courtesy of artist)

Savoir Adore clip:

I fell in love with the outdoor space at the French Legation Museum my first day in Austin, so I decided to go back to catch at least a couple of acts: Papercuts and Hanni el Khatib. Though I found the latter to be intriguing recorded, I can’t say I was really feeling them live, so I headed over to one of the NPR Music showcases and saw Khaira Arby, Wild Flag, The Joy Formidable, and The Antlers.

Even if it wasn’t really my bag, it was fun to see Carrie Brownstein’s new project: you guessed it – an all-girl garage band. Then there was The Joy Formidable. All I can say is wow. Chick has the crazy eyes. Photographic evidence:

The Joy Formidable (photo courtesy of artist)

The Joy Formidable clip:

By far the highlight of the show (besides chatting with the Jon Pareles, the chief pop music of the NYT) was the set by The Antlers. They performed the entirety of their upcoming album, Burst Apart, in sequence for the first time in a live setting. (You can stream the show here.) Apparently, the band had been practicing it like crazy with back-to-back sessions. A lot of the task was finding out how to build all of the layers included in the studio recordings. I’m not convinced that their new material is nearly as cinematic in scope as Hospice, but of course it’s hard to tell what direction the new songs will ultimately take in a live setting.

Like Hospice, much of the new album seems to project a dark kind of resignation to pain, sickness, and heartbreak. But in addition to the darker songs, it ended in a surprisingly hopeful, (albeit bleak) vein. “I’m not going to die alone. I stitched the stuff up to close up the hole,” sang Pete Silberman in a particularly Hospice-like song.

The Antlers (photo Ben Ritter)

As the last strains of The Antlers were dying out, I quickly left the building and headed back to the French Legation Museum with just enough time to see two songs from Low, a band I had been meaning to see for a while.

Up next was quite a change of pace from the big-name headliners in the dimly lit upstairs room at The Parish – a lesser-known crop of musicians, playing on a rooftop bar. In quick succession, I saw Herman Düne, Bobby Long, and briefly for a second time, the captivating act Sea of Bees before attempting to get into the Pitchfork showcase at Central Presbyterian Church to see Juliana Barwick. Upon learning the show as a mean $30, I declined (but not before asking the SXSW staffer, “Is this Pitchfork just being a jerk?”).

Sea of Bees (photo Amanda Hatfield)

To fill in the gained time, I checked out a couple of new acts: goofy, ironic mustached garage rockers Gospel Claws and the pleasant uptempo Scotish artist King Creosote. Neither were particularly memorable, or at least not in comparison to what I saw next: Austra.

Zola Jesus may drive me a bit crazy due to Nika Roza Danilova’s overly dramatic performance, but Austra seemed to strike exactly the right balance – theatrical and eye-catching without coming across as disingenuous or over-the-top. Their beat was addictive, their appearance and dance moves, arresting. Austra is the project of three women: Katie Stelmanis (front and center) and  Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf (who contribute both backing vocals and synchronized dance moves).

Austra RIYL Zola Jesus, CocoRosie (photo Simon Gentillier Reelsgaard)

Austra clip:

Throughout the week, I had either an Austra or Sea of Bees song stuck in my head – not that I was complaining about it on either count.

I finished off the evening with Lord Huron and The Heligoats before calling it a night and jumping back on my bike to take the late-night uphill ride back to the hotel room.

band count of the day: 15.

End of the year best, round two: Songs

Before I actually set out to make this list, I thought it would be a piece of cake, but once I actually sat down with my i Tunes, I realized that many of my favorite tracks of the year technically came out last year. (1)

That said, there were a few tracks that stood out.

“Marathon” by Tennis
I was so tempted to pick “South Carolina” over “Marathon” since it is my home state, but I have to say, I think “Marathon” takes the cake – blame the carefree chorus. I love the contrast between the more understated verses and the exuberantly buoyant chorus. ↓

“Heart in Your Heartache” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
This single dropped a couple of weeks ago – just in time. After falling in love with this band in 2009, I craved more candy-coated distortion. ↓

“When I’m Small” by Phantogram
Phantogram’s two chief members may have recorded much of the album in a barn in rural New York, but don’t let that fool you. The music is anything but campy. Sarah Barthel’s vocals are positively intoxicating. I’m especially fond of the breakdown in the middle. ↓

*See also: this acoustic version.

– – –

Of course, there’s something to be said for an eye-catching music video to accompany a deserving song. Regretfully, the previous few songs never seemed to officially be turned into music videos, but then you’ve also got these gems:

“Dreamin'” by Allo Darlin’
If you know me, you probably know I have a bit of a weakness for a good male/female duet. I love the stripped down simplicity of this song. It just seems so honest. ↓

“Gnomes” by Sea of Bees
When I figure out what this song reminds me of, you’ll be the first to know. As far as I know, I heard it for the first time just this week (courtesy of Robin Hilton’s best of list on NPR Music). But I feel like I’ve known it for years. I could listen to this song on repeat for days. ↓

“Undertow” by Warpaint
What started out as a cover song of Nirvana’s “Polly,” eventually turned into “Undertow” at the hands of the LA 4-piece. Perhaps due to its origin, the song seemed simultaneously fresh and familiar . Ah, Warpaint, the all-girl band that is so much more than a fem heap of X chromosomes. How I enjoy this song. ↓

“I Want the World to Stop” by Belle & Sebastian
I think most people were disappointed by Write About Love. The stakes were high. It had been five years since the release of their last album, after all. But you know what? I’m defending this infectious little song, and I dare you to hear it and disagree. ↓

“Go Do” by Jónsi
How could I forget this song and it’s beautiful accompanying video? Much of the music I listen to is downtrodden, moody, and/or lo-fi. Enter Jónsi. Enter hope – brilliant, brilliant hope. ↓

“Heaven Can Wait” by Charlotte Gainsbourg
She may have been hugely disappointing live, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was addicted to this song when I first heard it early in the year – of course it doesn’t hurt that Beck produced and sang in it. It’s as catchy as any pop song can be, but it’s also wonderfully understated. Then there’s the beautiful oddball surrealist music video. I especially love the tennis shots with the timing of the bouncing.

One commenter on YouTube stated, “Kanye, I’m gonna let you finish, but Charlotte Gainsbourg had the best music video of 2010!” And I have to say I’m inclined to agree. ↓

*See also: the director’s cut.

Finally, how could I dare to present a list of the best songs of the year without including Sufjan’s expansive manifesto of a song… if you can even use that term for the whopping 25-minute piece. ↓

“Impossible Soul”
On Youtube, it’s split into two parts, but here it is in its entirety – perhaps even more amazing live than on the record.

And I was worried there wouldn’t be enough songs to choose from. Here we have 10, in no particular order. Do you think you know how my album list will turn out? Stay tuned! It’s coming soon.

(1) Namely, DM Stith’s “Pity Dance,” tUnE-yArDs’ “Sunlight,” Twin Sister’s “Nectarine,” and yes – Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to name a few.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being