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Orange you sad we broke up?

May 4, 2012

Some albums surprise you. When I first decided to give Sea of Bee’s “Orangefarben” a listen, I didn’t expect much. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I’d make it all the way through. Its title, which is german for orange — the color not the fruit, annoyed me. “Orangefarben” reminded me too much of Volkswagen’s goofy 90s slogan “Fahrvergnügen.”

“Orangefarben” is a break up album. Pretty well-worn territory. It is by a solo singer-songwriter. Also pretty well-worn territory.

One listen to the album’s opening track “Broke” convinced “Orangefarben” was much more than I expected. Singer Julie Ann Bee’s childlike voice swells and shifts with song’s emotions. Beginning with plaintive mummer “I’m your heart, but your heart broke / I tried to love you, but I did not know what to do” the song builds momentum to a chorus that shifts from desperation to the over-confident declaration “I’ll be fine.”

The rest of the album never quite matches the high standard of “Broke,” but most of the songs come close. “Gone,” “Teeth” and “Girl” are the finest moments of the rest of the album.

“Gone” is a melancholy apology, gentle and pretty. Its only flaw is the clunky line “I stand alone / Like a mountain of stone.”

“Teeth” follows much the same formula as “Broke.” Its opening verse jangles along pleasantly toward an energetic chorus with the understated poetics of “I remember her white teeth / Yeah, her crooked teeth / Yeah, crooked teeth / They danced with me / Danced with my first kiss.”

“Girl,” the happiest song on bubbles over with joy on the chorus even as the the verses hint at an underlying sadness. And that’s one of the great things about this album.

The album also features “Leaving,” a beautiful cover of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Bee, with minimal lyrical tweaks, strips the song of its hope and most of its hokeyness.

“Orangefarben” is a gem of vaguely folkish pop. Its production seems to owe a debt to Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound technique with simple, spare arrangements that, thanks to rich layers of vocal harmonies, instruments, and studio effects, never sound stripped down.

“Orangefarben” is as richly layered emotionally as it is aurally. Rarely is a song limited to one overriding emotion. Bee’s lyrics and her vocal performance capture the complex emotions of that go along with a break up.

Yes, break up albums have been done before, but Sea of Bees manages to make this old idea sound new.

Wesley Teal
News Editor

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