The third full length release The Sun Left and Took the Moon With It from Portland’s Bees in a Bottle, comprising the duo of Christine and Chad McAllister, signals a turning point in an already promising run. The album’s eleven songs elevate their songwriting to higher levels than ever before as Christine has latched onto a quasi-concept that she’s able to sink her teeth into. The songs are written about various women dealing with the emotional fallout that comes after losing a loved one to premature death, through various means, and her range as a writer is apparent. It’s an album of voices and she captures each one with clear, unsparing language eschewing any sort of sentimentality. The musical backing is equally varied varying from unabashed alternative rock into softer acoustic musings.
“Wet Widow” is the perfect opener for the release. Drummer Mark Powers lays down a thunderous steady march. It flourishes and shifts gears a few times during the cut, always at the right time, but otherwise follows an unwavering path. Chad McAllister’s guitar does the same. He has an acute sense of where to place his guitar in light of the song’s lyrical message and embodies the anger behind Christine’s words. Her vocals are eye-opening. She tunes into the simmering anger underlying grief with unerring clarity.
She tempers her vocal approach with the album’s second song “You Alone”. This is a much quieter number than the opener, atmospheric without ever sounding tacky, and gossamer-like piano fills pepper the arrangement. It does erupt, however, but Bees in a Bottle hold off for some time before unleashing their full musical firepower. “No Clean Slate” dispenses with the atmospherics in favor of a straight-ahead acoustic approach. Chad McAllister, however, does put his electric guitar stamp on the track with dramatic lead guitar near the song’s conclusion. It puts an emphatic exclamation point on both the song’s emotion and its melodic strengths.
“Jealous Mistress” is a brisk rocker that Christine raises another notch with her best wailing vocal. She’s an all-around capable singer, adept with a variety of approaches, and “Jealous Mistress” exemplifies her wide-ranging gifts. The chiming guitar nevertheless has bite. “Darlin’ I’ll” is a peak moment on an album bursting with them. This stark depiction of the aftermath has a light orchestral quality without ever veering into melodrama and hinges on piano, a smattering of post-production touches, and acoustic guitar. The piano, however, is crucial. It isn’t as crucial, however, as Christine’s voice. Her plaintive emotive talents strip the lyrics bare of any sentimentality and bring us close-up to the devastation left after the end.
“The trigger was pulled/and the hammer came down” are the opening lines of “Hang Fire”, another of the collection’s best moments. These unflinching lines depicting suicide will grab the attention of all but the most insensate of listeners. Bees in a Bottle reach glorious heights with this dramatic track that alternates between quiet acoustic contemplation and raging rock. It’s one of the album’s finest examples of what the duo achieves with this release. The Sun Left and Took the Moon With It will leave intelligent listeners a bit stupefied from its emotional impact. It’s complete in every way.