by Nick Adams (@n1ck_adams)
The Spirit of the Beehive evade simple classification. Last year, the ambitious Philly quintet delivered Pleasure Suck, a mutated serving of knotty psych-rock filled with screeching left turns and buried beauty. Their latest outing, Hypnic Jerks, is superficially less intimidating, but its atypical construction and erratic shifts make for another riveting and unpredictable journey.
Recorded and wrapped in a weeklong session over the holidays, Hypnic Jerks features a band buzzing with restless creativity. The songs overflow with ideas and eschew conventional structure, often containing several distinct sections rather than recurring hooks. The music explores new territory at each fork in the road, forging a linear path rather than retreading used ground.
The record is bathed in psychedelic warmth, with agreeable vocals and laid-back tempos, a feeling of lazily floating down a river. But it’s not all Strawberry Fields—urgency and ugliness have a seat at the table too. This is a jittery band refusing to curate itself; post-punk and ambience can live harmoniously here. The moment that mimics the anthemic intro of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)” is an obvious red herring for a band this inscrutable, but the misplacement fits into the mash-up approach of the record. Like they sing on the title track—“Moments before R.E.M., I jerk up and sweat”—expecting comfort with the Spirit of the Beehive is futile; every moment is fleeting.
Never a band overcommitted to realism, the Spirit of the Beehive continue to explore the dreamlike state on Hypnic Jerks. The extensive use of vocal samples places the music in the human context, but the choppy eeriness of the recordings mimics dream logic—something’s not quite right. The “happy birthday” bit in “Monumental Shame” is especially unsettling, before giving way to a perfectly pleasant guitar tune. The speech snippets, used in tandem with lengthy ambient portions, coat the record with a layer of warped nostalgia, ghostly transmissions reminiscent of Music Has the Right to Children.
With the band operating in countless speeds and tones, the vocals also swerve between a handful of styles. The title track opens with Parquet Courts-esque deadpan barks, coherent to the point of almost shattering the band’s illusion, but the song promptly pivots to something less earthbound. When the voices swing more ethereal, the lyrics tend to concern relationships, but even intimacy is seen through a kaleidoscope. The poignant verse-trading and overlapping vocals on “(Without You) In My Pocket” paint two sides of a dissolving romance; brutally honest lines like “I don’t feel compassion for you anymore” are mixed with vignettes of fame and “selling out MSG.” Though remaining enigmatic at their core, the Spirit of the Beehive are starting to let in some light.
On Hypnic Jerks, the Spirit of the Beehive find their home base when exploring open space, jamming with plucky guitar and inviting grooves, a notable shift from the claustrophobic delirium of their last record. Whereas Pleasure Suck unleashed an assault, Hypnic Jerks is content to kick back. Well, mostly kick back; whenever you feel you have a grasp on the record, it deftly changes lanes—music that rewards devotion as you memorize its contours.