NATIONAL BEEKEEPERS SOCIETY – Pawn Shop Etiquette
There have been two big changes to the National Beekeepers Society since they released their debut in 2006. The first, and arguably most significant, is that Karl Christenson joined the band. His contribution on guitar and vocals is immediately obvious, and he seems to energize and inspire the band. Christenson can also be found fronting the willfully offensive, occasionally tuneful, always entertaining Cribshitter, but prior to that he did his time in the ridiculously good-looking, but musically generic, Jimmy’s Comet. It’s interesting that he went from something so bland to being part of three of Madison’s most intriguing bands. The second was lead singer Nick Whetro’s creation of an alter-ego Icarus Himself (which also includes Christenson), which gives him an outlet for songs that aren’t the Beekeepers’ type.
Comparisons to Pavement and Spoon dot nearly every review of this record. While they no longer wear their influences so prominently on their sleeves, they won’t be able to escape the Pavement comparisons until they quit writing quirky lyrics over melodies that end abruptly. The fuzzy opening track, “Look at Me,” is a perfect example of this. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning it; I’m recommending it. I’ve always liked Pavement (and they certainly aren’t putting out any new material; in fact, I’m not sure what exactly Stephen Malkmus is doing these days), so it is nice to have someone filling that niche.
While I noted that resemblance when I reviewed their first record, the Spoon one never even occurred to me. And boy do I feel dumb, because there are hints of Britt Daniel’s band throughout, from the jangly, percussive opening of “Sixty Five,” to Whetro’s machine gun in slo-mo vocals on “So Hardcore,” to the organ that anchors “Don’t Go Takin’.” I should say right here that the only way to effectively communicate what a band sounds like to someone who hasn’t heard them is to compare them to one they have. To say the Beekeepers sound like Spoon and Pavement doesn’t do them justice, because most of all they sound like the Beekeepers.
Whetro’s lyrics range from smart to inscrutable, but perhaps the most unique song is the one he didn’t write the words to. I was going to say how nice it was to see a band bringing back the instrumental before I noticed that “Upon the Hills of Georgia” has words. They were written by poet Alexander Pushkin, and oh yeah, they’re in Russian, at least I think they are. It’s hard to understand the verses that dot the slinky, modern-day “Peter Gunn Theme” melody, and it’s pretty cool. Somewhere there’s an indie movie that needs this song. The trombone is the new trumpet (you heard it here first), and Eric Lewellyn’s is used to maximum effect in the instrumental breaks of “Lazy,” as in “Mother says I’m a lazy man.”
I don’t know what she’s talking about. A lot of work went into the CD; they just make it sound easy.