The fourth release from The Bees is a deceptive thing. Early impressions imply an upbeat, almost saccharine listen, first single I Really Need Love a two-chorded smile with cloying lyrics and an optimism so overwhelming it would make a bouquet throw up. It’s not actually a bad song, just… misplaced, as though it got lost on its way to a date and stumbled into a more jaded part of town, all peeling billboards and empty wine bottles.
Certainly it’s not really a fair poster-child for the rest of the album, but then neither, quite, is Winter Rose, darker and more downbeat with a world-weary reggae tinge and trumpets that seem to sigh. Yet between them these two tracks sum up the extremes of Every Step’s A Yes, from Beach Boys sunshine to a more shadowed melancholy: the remainder of the album sits somewhere in between, soft melodies atop intricate arrangements that flit from fragility to whimsy.
As could be expected from a band heralding from the Isle Of Wight, there’s little of the urban in these songs. The Bees’ sound is offshore, disconnected from time and place, their varied influences meshing into a sea breeze of psychedelic indie-folk that, for casual listeners, all too often risks drifting by. Paul Butler’s vocals whisper at the fringes of our thoughts whilst rarely commanding our full attention, yet never quite losing it either: for all its aversion to shouting, Every Step’s A Yes manages to exert a subtle, quiet hold, melodies dancing in the background long after they’ve been heard.
Yet there’s also something darker here, a faded, desiccated element most pronounced in Island Love Letter, its floating rhythmic lilt an underworld waltz of minor chords and understated sorrow. It’s a tone continued into the album’s most affectingly romantic track, Pressure Makes Me Lazy, Butler’s voice evoking Grizzly Bear at the close of Vectatimest against a delicate interplay of harp, mandolin and radio static so aching in its beauty that nothing can really follow it.
As a result closer Gaia seems a misstep, a brash intrusion that shatters the carefully-wrought air of introspection like a stripper at a wake. Looping Portuguese dialogue under jazz-infused guitar scales and trumpet squalls, it’s an ending that jars with pretty much the whole rest of the album but still – somehow – makes sense, taking just seconds to shift the mood back to something near the one we came in with. And if nothing else it’s a supremely apt demonstration of The Bees’ versatility, and of the impossibility of pigeonholing them into any single niche – although the sheer eclectic diversity of instrumentation on offer here is likely to have proven that already.
Every Step’s A Yes is not, despite its title, a fully successful record, but it’s certainly a very interesting one, quietly confident and, given enough time, utterly charming, like the warmth of a flame in an ash-filled hearth. And as the nights turn blacker and our breath starts forming in our own living rooms, that’s pretty much what we need right now.