The Humble Bee – Things are Sweeter When They’re Lost

‘Things are Sweeter When They’re Lost’ marks the first release from the Humble Bee (aka Craig Tattersall) in three years. Not only is it a return from the Humble Bee, it is also his third cassette release for the Dauw label. And, as ever, it marks another stellar release from an artist who continues to craft some of the finest minimal electronic music made over the last decade.

The album has two general things in common with its predecessor releases for the Dauw label: first is that all three releases have only two compositions, and second is that each composition occupies a full side of a cassette. And while the album continues to draw from some of the elements of the Humble Bee’s broad palette there is never the feeling that the artist is simply retreading old grounds. Rather, the magic is where it always is with a Humble Bee release: it’s within that strangely, undefinable place where form/structure and the elements of melody/melodies, no matter how small, merge to create something sublime. 

However, in trying to tease out the specific aspects that do make the album unique to other HB releases, there are a few things that can be said: it is more piano driven and it is more dubby in a number of places. But even those aspects are not new to the sonic palette, rather they are simply further explored/elaborated here as compared to other releases.

Side A composition “it was the only thing i ever wanted” begins with the slow rolling in of a gentle audible fog, as if Tatersall is setting his machines in motion. A piano enters and lumbers along somewhat ominously before drifting out of focus as it seems about to be buried under a fog of tape hiss. But then a new sound emerges sounding as if it is about to take flight. And then? The undulating dubbed out sound of so many squashed sounds simply staying alive like some sort of heart monitor keeping the music from being completely submerged. Eventually the sounds are buried, replaced by a new piano melody to take us somewhere new. And then that too is slowly diminished to be replaced by another piano melody. This strategy of things blooming and then dying is a consistent technique of bringing various melodies in and out of focus as the compositions evolve. By the end of the first composition, it is as if the listener has been transported to some other space, left to drift in a world of sounds zipping passed one another in some sort of other/outer space. But it’s an almost desolate space.

Side B “it turned to dust in my hand” opens with the slow coming into focus of a melody crawling out from the weight of a thousand pounds of cassette hiss and hum. The weight of that crackling creates audible rumbling disruptions that simultaneously create a fragmented rhythm but also just give the general feeling of something slowly crawling into the light from some dark corner. It takes almost 4 minutes for that melody to rise to the surface and when it gets there, its like crawling from a dark room to being inches away from an all-consuming light. Still, there is a low rumble underneath it all that gives the piece an almost techno-like base. This is the Humble Bee at his perhaps murkiest and dubbiest. There is rhythms on display that harken back to some of the dubbiest moments of The Boats in their “Verbs are Not Enough” era. But of course, its all fused with the hums and hisses of a Humble Bee release which create a sense of murkiness and disonance to the piece.  By 3/4 of the way through there is some minimal strain and some almost orchestral elements that sound like listening to ballroom music from two rooms over and 7 decades in the past. It’s the Humble Bee at it’s most haunted. Then it dissolves to the glitch of what feels like a computer printer circa 1980s stuck on print. But then the hubby rhymes crawl back in more abrasive and murky then ever. 

The album closes with a familiar melody, very familiar – a piano based almost hip hop rhythm which is taken directly from minute 11 of the “Instruction Booklet N. 1232” album previously released on Dauw. It’s a melody lifted directly from a previous release. Most artists wouldn’t attempt such a move, but the strategy serves to remind the listener of one of the underlying aspects of what makes The Humble Bee’s music so revelatory time and time again: music – sound in general – is all context. Sure, it’s the same melody but it is processed differently, at a different time in the composition and it evokes a different feel in this new context.

What it is it that makes The Humble Bee’s music so special? No matter how descriptive the review, no matter the adjectives, it all seems to come back to some intangible quality that reaches listeners on some fundamental, innate level. It’s music as soaked in a challenging air of mystery as much as it is in in an inviting sense of beauty. It’s a challenging balance but one that seems to make each release feel like a revelation just as it is in another sense an experiment on the parts of its creator.

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