Sea of Bees’ Orangefarben is an engaging album from an authentic ‘weirdo folkie’

Sacramento-based singer-songwriter Julie Ann Bee, working under the project name Sea of Bees, has just released her second full-length album, following up her 2010 debut. In tone, Orangefarben is largely sentimental, semi-sweet music, of a piece with most of the folk-rock genre, these days. And the arrangements put very conventional guitars, violins and incidental percussion front and center. But the end result has some undeniably weird twists. Thanks in large part to Bee’s very expressive vocal performances, the album manages to be endearing without being saccharine, stay perpetually just-off-balance, and to spill over with personality. I’ve heard Sea of Bees compared to Sparklehorse, and while the music doesn’t bear much resemblance, the approach to writing and recording certainly does — this is an album full of strange, bright ideas, shot through with unflinching courage in its convictions.

Orangefarben also makes a tricky comparison to Bee’s last album, Songs for the Ravens. The new album is both less experimental and more confident, but I don’t get the feeling it’s any more conservative, really; the risks here are carefully chosen, but no less ambitious. What hasn’t changed, thankfully, is that sense of being let in on something intensely personal. Listening to Sea of Bees still feels like being a fly on the wall during the construction of these songs. It’s an exciting place to be.

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