Sea of Bees Orangefarben Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Sacremento singer's second album sounds disappointingly at home as background listening.

Alex Denney 2012

“I’m not trying to be ambitious with my creativity. I’m just trying to be honest and direct with it.” So says Sacramento songstress Julie Ann Baenziger about her work to date under the Sea of Bees moniker, and ultimately it’s the ethos by which second album Orangefarben stands and falls.

Following her promising debut Songs for the Ravens, Orangefarben (the title comes from a nickname given to her ex) arrives trumpeted as a break-up record in the raw, written more out of grief-racked compulsion than a desire to commit to another album per se. Disappointingly, then, the discreet soft rock tones here frequently edge into blandness, and there’s little to suggest the wildly oscillating mood swings that are heartbreak’s customary bedfellows. Instead, a meek, slightly crushed-sounding melancholy plays out, wearing thin over the course of a record.

As has already been suggested, our jilted heroine’s unfussy intelligence is a double-edged sword, and there’s no denying the subtle craft of the middle-eight on the Fleetwood Mac-ish Take, or the pedal steel-assisted, haunting Teeth, whose tightly-written hooks offer a great showcase for Baenziger’s voice in its attractively frail upper registers.

But elsewhere and the maudlin acoustic tropes summon up the soggy ghost of 90s AOR confessional sorts like Lisa Loeb and The Corrs, whatever Baenziger’s anti-folk sensibilities (her Joanna Newsom-esque phrasing has already been noted). Give and Smile both suffer from this complaint, and a cover of John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane – here renamed Leaving – doubles down on the déjà vu with pedestrian drum machine hits blunting the heartfelt vocals almost completely. The slightly anonymous impression, meanwhile (if she tried penning her own You Oughta Know, it’s a long way from showing up here), is only reinforced by Orangefarben’s one-word titles policy, which results in songs called things like Take, Give and Grew.

Girl and Alien offer attractive if somewhat forgettable forays into perkier territory, but Grew ends the album on possibly its bleakest note – all inconsolable, ambient drones and cracked singing from Baenziger. She’s an undemonstrative talent, certainly, but there’s understated to the point of blending into the background – which is where much of Orangefarben sounds disappointingly at home.

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