The term “Kmart Realism” was first coined in the 1980s to describe a trend in literary fiction defined by sparse sentences, fast-food joints, and the hyper-acceleration of capitalism and commercialization in predominantly suburban areas. Kmart realists like Mary Robison, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and to some extent Don DeLillo wrote about the creepy feeling of walking through a mall at night and relaxing in front of the TV only to be greeted by endless advertisements for personal injury lawyers and lawyers Small town water parks that will make your brain forget about synthetic drugs. The term could also be applied to Spirit of the Beehive, the project of psychotropic Philly punks Zack Schwartz, Rivka Ravede and Corey Wichlin, whose excellent fourth album ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is illuminated by the same terrible, phosphorescent light.
If you tried to have a conversation while listening to CONVERSATION, DEATH, you would forget what you said when the words gushed out of your mouth. It’s an inherently destabilizing album that doesn’t adhere to any specific narrative. Instead, it’s fragmented and stitched together with old commercials, noise, and guitar failures. Opener “Entertainment” sounds like an automatic demolition at first, then shakes itself up and takes on the quality of a rotten yé-yé song. A section of string rises from the dirt; The texts are blurry and distorted. “On the way to the east in the direction of KSMO / 16-Rader that come too close / dust picks up and swallows us whole,” sings Schwartz, as if he had just woken up from a nap.
Spirit of the Beehive aren’t unique, but they just don’t sound like everyone else in their home scene. They come from the world of Philadelphia DIY, from punk basements with no proper plumbing and houses with large verandas. You meet up with people in bands like Palm and Body Meat. Frank Ocean is a fan. If anything, their sound is less sympathetic to Philly DIY and closer to the kind of music released by London’s Warp. In their talent for fermenting chintzy pop music into something rabid and loud, they evoke something a bit like jockstrap electro chanson freaks.
ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH isn’t that different from anything this band has done before, it’s just better, more sophisticated. It’s no less weird or haunting than, say, the Hypnic Jerks from 2018; if anything, it’s even creepier and stranger. A song like the muscular “Wrong Circle” feels like experiencing a bad high all over your body with your eyes twitching and pressure building up in your chest. Singing birds are juxtaposed with hyper-lively synthesizers, oceanic drums and modulated vocals. The music flickers and clicks like an old television in a channel search setting or flies under a yellowed street lamp.
Schwartz spent much of his youth in Miami taking acid, playing music in a locker, and then going to his job at a mall, as he told Pitchfork. He compared his experience with the Jonah Hill skater Flick Mid90s; ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is also similar to Hill’s film. It feels listless, like a summer drinking Robitussin and skateboarding or maybe spraying a pentagram on the side of an old lady’s house. “I Suck the Devil’s Cock” best highlights the feeling of a wasted summer in the mall dreaming of being somewhere else. At almost seven minutes, it is the longest track on the album. There’s a burst of noise that sounds almost melodic, as well as multiple guitar lines. “Fear of needles, but not of everything,” sings Schwartz. He doesn’t value constructive criticism. “The surreal lyrics of Spirit of the Beehive reflect the kind of discomfort that is abundant in the writing of Kmart realists: visceral, hallucinatory vignettes that evoke a whole landscape of emotions in a few words.
ENTERTAINMENT, TOD is a very nice, very difficult record. It’s withdrawn, cryptic paranoia music late into the night, so disturbing and loud that it is almost too intimate at times, even when there are no real identifying details. The feeling it evokes is like listening to a close friend tell the details of his nightly terror: you see the sweat, the enlarged pupils, the general feeling of acute discomfort. However, Rapid & Complete Recovery offers a moment in the eye of the storm. The song is meandering, peaceful. Layers of synthesizers suggest watching the world recede below you as you take the elevator up a skyscraper. “Lifetimes compressed in a vacuum / no restrictions, you know what comes next”, Ravede and Schwartz harmonize, their voices are completely calm. What they are looking for is not clear; Spirit of the Beehive is an unrecognizable band. At any point in time, they are a whole galaxy away.
Buy: Rough Trade
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