A Band of Bees

Sunshine Hit Me

Something about A Band of Bees' debut, Sunshine Hit Me, makes it sound as though it were far older than the aluminum it's pressed on. But despite flashbacks to the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and to Brazilian acid rock, the album from 23-year-olds Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher is a solidly 21st-century production. This instant vintage masterpiece trumps all the retro posturing of the day by fusing the best elements of earlier decades -- feisty Hammond stabs, flatly muted trumpets, flailing guitars pushed to the brink -- into a contemporary assemblage of funk and soul.

A Band of Bees shares something of the Beta Band's oddball sonics and Zero 7's sultry sway, but its music is very much its own, distinguished by ingenious sound design as much as by inspired songwriting. The reggae number "No Trophy," for instance, could be mistaken for an authentic remnant of some '60s Studio One ska session. The drums sound like they were recorded in a shed, the organ bubbles up like Rip van Winkle coming out of a magnetic slumber, and the vocals crackle like a phone call from the Caribbean in the days before fiber optics. But the duo's flair for unusual arrangements never trumps its ear for a tune; Sunshine Hit Meis one of the first great sing-along albums of this year. It doesn't matter that "Punchbag," for example, makes not a lick of sense ("Use me like a punchbag/ I'm too much for a cage of monkeys"), because the way the voices swoop and growl, swoon and bluster practically begs you to join in the harmonizing.

The album's star might be "A Minha Menina," originally recorded by Os Mutantes on its self-titled 1968 debut. It takes guts to cover a band as seminal as Os Mutantes, which assisted in the birth of the tropicalia movement by combining popular Brazilian music with the freakiest tendencies of Anglo-American art rock. (Frequent name-checking by the likes of Beck and David Byrne only ups the stakes.) But A Band of Bees' version, bristling with white-hot guitars, loses nothing of the original's spark, and its half-translation, switching between English and Portuguese lyrics, is the perfect encapsulation of the original act's hybrid approach. It would be foolhardy to claim that A Band of Bees will have the historical significance of Os Mutantes, but if it can summon even a smidgen of the Brazilians' lust for life, that'd be a welcome return for contemporary lovers of big, bold, brassy songs.

 
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