Experience Glowbug’s Sonic Metamorphosis on ‘The Bumblebee King’
Glowbug’s Vampire Empire made my album of the year for 2020. So when serial creative Daniel Anderson (also of Idiot Pilot and Tarantula Tapes) announced a new album to follow barely a year after the fact, I was understandably excited. Vampire Empire wasn’t just good – it was what I’d consider to be a gamechanger.
Upon the release of “Black Hole”, it was clear the upcoming album would be a bit different. Understandable, as Glowbug has always been a bit amorphous. At the core, there are chillwave roots. But the past few albums have been more lyrically-driven, and in lieu of that, instrumentation has shifted a bit to suit. Anderson has added in brass, strings, synths, and even a heaver focus on guitar and drums. I guess you might call this “chamber electronica” if you had to give it a label.
But in a less pretentious description, The Bumblebee King is actually closer to the likes of Weezer, The Talking Heads, and even Motown classics. Yes, Anderson’s take on these styles is assuredly unique. But nonetheless, there’s an undeniable familiarity. Of course, given Glowbug has released an entire Weezer cover album, none of this is incredibly surprising – though this is the first time this influence has been so front-and-center on original compositions.
Compared to Vampire Empire, The Bumblebee King feels more vintage, relaxed, and guitar-driven. While its predecessor toyed with post-hardcore and Caribbean type sounds, this album feels a bit more restrained and streamlined. That’s not to imply any corners were cut or that it lacks the same degree of compelling songcraft. But it’s an obvious shift in sound, one that still is Glowbug in nature nonetheless.
Suffice it to say, this is the kind of album that should immediately leave an impression. It was created entirely during the season of lockdowns, but even in that short timeframe, it’s an album of meteoric proportions. I won’t name specific artists, but I know fans have waited for longer for much less.
- Friendly Apocalypse
The album opens with Rhodes-type keys, reminiscent of “Lean On Me”. Immediately, layered vocals float in. But when the groove kicks in and the main synth hook comes into the mix, the true energy of the track is revealed. It’s all about rhythm and pulse here, with some captivating bass work and some tight-but-near-invisible drumming. Buried under the sensual mix of instrumentation sits some pretty interesting lyrics:
We’re standing on the edge of the bitter end
All I wanna do is love you
I’m looking for a friendly apocalypse
Comets raining down on our heads
- Black Hole
This was the first single off the album, and it stands out for its sassy, semi-sarcastic vocal performances. Anderson is joined by long-time collaborator Lourdes Hernandez, and the two trade off with sentiments about paranoia and being trapped inside. Even so, this is all under a powerful, brass-driven groove. This track is punchy and fun, and it’s definitely worthy of being a single.
- Confetti Cannon
“Confetti Cannon” seems like a nod to earlier Glowbug songs, with a bit more of a chillwave backbone. One of the highlights here is the continual use of short, ornamental guitar motifs. Lyrical, the track talks about the city being empty and roads being cleared up – and that even in a moment that feels apocalyptic, there’s a sense of freedom as a result.
- Modern Life
“Modern Life” might be the heaviest track on the album, opening with Anderson’s trademark distorted screaming. It might come as a surprise if you’re new to Glowbug, but I need to reiterate that this is far from metalcore by any stretch. The screaming is brief and rarely a main focus. And despite the heavy veneer, this track honestly isn’t too far off from something you might find from Weezer. That’s the joy of Glowbug: Anderson takes familiar recipes and adds just a hint of his own secret ingredients. If you like this song, Fantasma Del Tropico is the album for you.
- Make Me An Offer
Things slow down quite a bit on “Make Me An Offer”, a track that purrs more than it roars. Anderson’s voice is restrained, and he employs a fair share of falsetto here. The result is tender. The chorus kicks things up a notch with a bed of brass, but under all of this, nothing else changes drastically. This is an excellent exercise in use of dynamics.
- The Dotted Line
This is an instant standout track. There’s a bit of greaser angst paired with British rock vocal approach. Musically, it’s a bit harder to place, proving to be an amalgamation of a variety of styles. Lyrically, it’s another great example of Anderson’s wordplay:
Sell me your blood
I’ve got a sure-fire investment, high-end conditional love
Sell me your heart
It’s a new once in a lifetime, twelve payment burial plot
- Guillotines Out
“Guillotines Out” is perhaps the most straightforward of these tracks: fairly standard alt-rock with a bit of falsetto and a huge chorus. Again, I feel a Weezer comparison is appropriate. At this point, I’d argue Anderson does Weezer better than Weezer does Weezer. You might as well put OK Human down and listen to this instead.
- On The Bright Side
Trap beats are about the last thing I’d expect on this album, and this is certainly the most out-of-place track as a result. The opening moments had me wondering where things would go, what with the bass drop and hi-hat patterns paired with darker vocals. But the chorus is a return to more traditional Glowbug fare. It might take a bit for this track to grow on me, but I can at least appreciate the attempt. Maybe that’s just what Anderson is expecting, given lyrics like this:
On the bright side, on the bright side
Can’t tell me that I didn’t at least try
- Digital Savior
Once again, the pace changes abruptly. This is another sultry and sensual track, with a bit of flute and a liberal amount of falsetto. Anderson handled all of the writing and production on the album, and this is a great opportunity to see just how adept he is in this area. There are a whole host of layers, and even something as simple as the “oooo” backing vocals really cements the sense of professional work.
- Evel Knievel
Needless to say, this is a name I haven’t heard in a long time. This track named over the legendary motorcycle stuntman is equally adventurous and exciting. “Whatever you do to me is fine, I’m invincible,” Anderson remarks confidently. Indeed, this sense of confidence is something that is painted across the entirety of this collection of songs.
“Worldeater” sees the second (and final) guest performance on the album. Evan Konrad, who was also featured on Fantasmo Del Tropico’s “Akrasia”, returns here to add some great harmonies to the mix. This is perhaps the most lofi of the mix, but it’s far from barren. There are some dissonant moments toward the end that give things a bit of a cinematic, post-hardcore flair (I’m reminded of bands like K Sera or even Bear Ghost). It’s less spooky and more climactic.
All that said, The Bumblebee King sits at a bit of a crossroads in the Glowbug discography. It has textures and hints of earlier works (namely Fantasma Del Tropico, Headhunters, and Suit of Swords), but the use of synths and brass are no longer defining elements, instead become supplemental pieces of a greater sonic puzzle. But this album does what every good Glowbug album does: expand on the existing foundation. Alt-rock, brit-rock, and Motown are new additions to the toolkit and help make this album even more dynamic and unexpected. But even so, as I’ve mentioned, the album has a definite sense of familiarity. Anderson’s methods are unconventional and adventurous, but they’re packaged in a consumable way.
Speaking of packaging, the album art is striking. The color contrast and overall pops out. Contrast the cyan and yellow scheme to the pink and black of Vampire Empire. The vinyl-type layout and desaturated profile of Anderson himself help create an illusion of “vintage” and “alternative”. This is one instance where the cover does matter.
Vampire Empire set the bar high early last year, and The Bumblebee King is certainly poised to do the same for 2021. You’ll want to check it out ASAP.