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Collections of Colonies of Bees - Giving

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Artist: Collections of Colonies of Bees

Album: Giving

Label: Home Tapes

Review date: Aug. 1, 2011

Collections of Colonies of Bees used to release music on Table of the Elements. That choice of record label seemed significant: As home to the likes of Tony Conrad, Jonathan Kane and Rhys Chatham, Table of the Elements situated itself at the center of the experimental/pop divide. CoCoB originated as an offshoot of the midwestern post-rock band Pele, but over the years shifted ground into a more experimental mode. It’s third album, Birds, released on the label in 2007, was an ecstatic album. Over the course of four songs, each titled “Flocks,” momentum and volume slowly built toward a beautiful, crushing conclusion.

Since then, the group teamed with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon under the name Volcano Choir, releasing the album Unmap on Jagjaguwar. Drummer Jon Mueller released a number of solo albums (and could be heard on Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio Is My Life), and pianist Thomas Wincek’s All Tiny Creatures released the terrific Harbors earlier this year. Both Mueller and Wincek have announced their departure from Collections of Colonies of Bees, making the process of listening to Giving oddly bittersweet: it’s a vivacious document of a group that no longer exists in this form.

As with the band’s previous albums, there’s a playful quality to the titles here. “Lawn,” “Vorm,” “Lawns” and “Vorms” are the four pieces, and there’s a similarity to the scope and energy of Birds. This is post-rock on the louder side of the genre, laced with the occasional minimalist flourish and tipping its hat to Chatham’s sinewy guitar-centric compositions from the 1970s and ’80s. It’s a sometimes contradictory work: a bold, dense album that’s over and done with in less than half an hour.

Unlike the more experimental moments of Unmap, the compositions here are more traditional and accessible; aficionados of both Mogwai and Steve Reich can each find aspects to appreciate. The opening of “Vorm” is the most broadly “rock” the group has sounded in a while, and even when there’s an unexpected interlude, such as the one that begins about two and a half minutes into “Lawn,” it’s ultimately revealed as part of a loud/quiet/loud progression. That said, Giving doesn’t press as hard toward epiphany as Birds. Instead, the album’s most resonant moments come in the transitions: the piano that helps guide the melody for much of “Vorms”; the strange percussive sound (keyboards? manipulated voices?) that emerge toward the end of “Lawns.”

Perhaps these songs emerged from a musical restlessness. There’s both affirmation and subversion of their previous works’ strengths. In the end, Giving is a more than satisfying swan song for this lineup.

By Tobias Carroll

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