FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Voice of The Hive
A sombre flute, the clunking toll of a bell, a solemnly plucked acoustic guitar … cue medieval clichés: misty moats, drawbridges, hooded monks, damsels in distress. But hold on, it’s not Led Zeppelin IV … a shimmering drone, Mellotron, and suddenly all manner of spiralling antiquated synths and warped B-movie effects. Thus begins ‘You Won’t Be The Same Ever Again’, the opening track of Greg Weeks ‘The Hive‘, and it is this oddball fusion of synthetic textures and baroque folk that flickers and sparks throughout the album.
Variously described – rather unappetisingly – as drone-folk and chamber rock, Greg Weeks is member of the Espers, whose medieval-inflected prog is very much prevalent in his solo work. The interplay of fuzzy guitar lines, moogs, Mellotron and Rhodes conspire towards the kind of baroque 60s psychedelia that the Flaming Lips toyed with on parts of ‘At War With the Mystics‘ and ‘The Soft Bulletin’. A more synthesised, buzzing soundscape than that of his acid-folk contemporaries, Weeks’ solo output has echoes of Midlake, minus the Fleetwood Mac impersonations, and a hint of Beach House’s waltzing slowcore. ‘The Hive’ also bears similarities to the Notwist’s funereal electronic-tinged indie and is a lusher, more accomplished cousin of Tunng’s Wicker Man conceit.
Most of ‘The Hive”s highlights feature in the first half the album: the Portishead-ish gloom of ‘Lamb’s Path’, for instance, with its little bursts of guitar distortion adding bite to the cello and glockenspiel. ‘Lay Low’ is yearning, jazzy space rock with a dash of Stereolab, while the dream pop of ‘Burn the Margins’ is augmented by blissfully dissonant keyboards and abrasive spurts of guitar noise. The invariability of pace, however, makes ‘The Hive’ a little repetitive, particularly in the latter stages. The lengthy title track, for example, is an eight-minute, po-faced dirge; its unironic, hokum paganism begs for some Monty Python-esque medieval cheer in the vein of The Holy Grail.
The title track apart, ‘The Hive’ is largely less expansive – more pop orientated – than the Weeks’ work with the Espers, though it lacks the anchoring beauty of Meg Baird’s Sandy Denny-esque singing. Weeks’ vocals are stretched a bit thin over the course of one album, especially on its more ponderous moments, and are best treated – as on ‘You Won’t Be The Same Ever Again’ – with some shrewd double tracking. By contrast, the delicate, drifting ‘Not Meant For Light’ frames his voice in a more intimate context, and is more affecting for it. But this lightness of touch is conspicuously absent elsewhere on the album, as Weeks manages to turn a pointless cover version of Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ – one of those unfortunately apt titles for a bad song – into a turgid, plodding bore. There is much to admire on ‘The Hive’, especially in the rich musicianship, but it is an album let down by some poor moments.