Describing what The Spirit of the Beehive sounds like is a beautifully frustrating process. Beautiful in that the Philly quartet’s 2017 record, pleasure suck, is a rare specimen of genre transcendence and sonic peerlessness.
Thing is, it’s frustrating for the same reason, especially for a music writer who, often at the cost of occasional pigeonholing, recommends artists via points of comparison. Attempting to explain something like pleasure suck results in a great deal of helpless sputtering.
The record’s head-spinning, groundless quality is the source of its intrigue. It’s also why, somewhat to frontman Zack Schwartz’s dismay, The Spirit of the Beehive are currently more of a band’s band than anything else.
“I was kinda hoping that it would reach a wider audience, but I guess it didn’t really,” Schwartz tells City Paper. “People [said] it was kind of hard to understand it.”
Although Schwartz’s disappointment is valid, the record is undeniably difficult to make sense of. According to his explanation of the songwriting process, it was made somewhat purposefully inaccessible, by “having a part that has a hook and then taking it away from the listener. Kind of like withdrawal, or something.”
The record is a musical gauntlet that requires time, patience and practice to appreciate. It offers: a smoky, lo-fi production; muttery, lyrically indistinguishable vocal deliveries; and melodies or structures that manifest quickly, and then abruptly disintegrate into either peculiar passages of distortion or strange blips of synth noise. Therefore, the mixed or overlooked critical response it received was moreso a lack of patience than a misunderstanding. Audiences just didn’t put the work in.
However, Schwartz hopes that the band’s next record, which is already finished and slated for a fall release via Tiny Engines, will be received differently.
“This new record has more of a song vibe to it,” he says. “I’m really excited about how it came out. I’ve showed it to a few close friends, and they say it’s more accessible but still challenging. If that’s the review, then I’m cool with that.”
He explains, “[pleasure suck] just sounded like regular rock songs” going into the studio. It was during post-production that they began to sound “weirder or cooler.” This time around, the band went in with the end goal in mind and was extremely satisfied with the result.
Regardless, The Spirit of the Beehive will most likely continue to be music created by and for outsiders. Schwartz says he doesn’t remember the last time that he sat down and listened to a full album all the way through, and he refrained from listening to any music at all prior to the latest studio time.
“I don’t want to be influenced too much by other stuff,” he says.
The band’s effort to be wholly individual has been apparent on each of its releases so far, and no matter how many ears The Spirit of the Beehive ends up reaching, its popularity doesn’t detract from its being one of the most fascinating rock acts of the decade.