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Sea of Bees, Elspeth - McHughes, Belfast

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ATL | 11:58 UK time, Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Sea of Bees, Elspeth
McHughs Basement, Belfast
Friday 13th April 2012

Tonight at McHughs basement we have Sea of Bees, the Sacramento based group of Jules Baenziger who specialise in melodious lyrics, experimental tunes and emotionally resonant music. For fans of folk-rock we are in for a treat with songs from past album ‘Songs for the Ravens’ and the newly released ‘Orangefarben’.

Before we get to the main event we have an Elspeth, an alt-rock five piece from Northern Ireland who have recently supported Dog is Dead and Cashier No9. They have almost finished their debut album ‘Coax’ and we are treated to a selection of songs that suggest with the right production, these young guys may have a bright future ahead of them.

Their vocalist is easily the standout of the act, his voice ranging from Art Garfunkel to the more modern Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen. It has a versatile quality which gives the songs a big boost. Moody and mournful at times, this is a group that belies their age with ‘Think Back’ being a real standout. If the rest of the album can capture the same aural ability, this debut could well be a sleeping giant.

It is only a short wait before Sea of Bees take to the stage with Jules introducing their first song. ‘Skinnybone’ a beautiful and haunting song with mazy guitars throughout and delicate drumming sets the tone for tonight. Jules makes no mistake in describing her music as primarily based on love and heartache and it shows. Each track has a gut-wrenching quality but it also is filled with a sense of hope and beauty.

The basement at McHughs is a perfect setting for Sea of Bees as it allows a great sense of intimacy with Jules introducing each song. With some artists it can upset the flow of the set but in this case it is vital as we are given a real insight into what it takes to write such personal music and more so, what it takes to share it.

The variety of the set is a real standout as it's not all slow paced folk, with quite a few songs picking up the pace. The first few tracks are off the first album but when we are treated to the newer material, it has clearer production values to it, with greater layering of instruments without ever compromising the vocals. Songs such as ‘Marmalade’, ‘Girl’ and ‘Broke’ are powerful yet retain the wonderfully twee quality of earlier songs.

Nearing the end of the set we hear a lovely cover of John Denvers, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ which also appears on ‘Orangefarben’. Refreshingly, Jules stays onstage rather than the overly cliched encore of pretending to go off stage only to come back less than a minute later. We are treated to the spellbinding ‘The Woods’ which sadly does not appear on any of Sea of Bees records. A real blessing for the audience and night of profound honesty and affecting music. The only real shame is that there weren’t more people there to witness it.

David Smith


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