There’s a very specific camp of indie-rock that Beezewax can be placed into, namely that of acts which are often cited as influential within their field, but rarely seem to have the legs to move beyond that distinction. It’s made all the more blatant given how the Norwegian’s have slotted into that scene, drawing comparisons to Teenage Fanclub and Buffalo Tom, and even collaborating on this very album with members of The Posies and Night Flowers. It would appear above all else that remaining cult favourites is very much Beezewax’s forte, and that can be both a blessing and a curse in very noticeable ways. Yes, there’s already a designated audience for them there – and with over twenty years’ experience, they’ve already cultivated their own at that – but it’s a sound that can also be rather cut-and-dry, leaning a bit more in the direction of older, more tempered indie-rock fans and little else. Of course, tailoring to a certain crowd isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a very real chance that, taking into account the general scene and what Beezewax have delivered in the past, Peace Jazz could fall on deaf ears outside of their own little niche.
Then again, that would imply that there’s no enjoyment to be found in this album at all outside of said niche, and that’s simply not true. If nothing else, Beezewax’s wistfulness and knack for light-dappled jangle-pop melody makes for an album that’s incredibly easy on the ears, especially given that the whole thing runs at a rather brisk pace, but gives itself room for those melodies to build into more filling, sumptuous pieces. Especially when paired with Kenneth Ishak’s consistenly soft vocals and the dreamy guitar swirls that colour tracks like Closer and Two Diamonds, there’s a general pleasantness to this album that makes it difficult to truly hate, if only because there’s really nothing here to hate. This brand of indie-rock is one that’s renowned for being so easy to slip in and out of, and Beezewax’s hazy, summery swaying and frequent nostalgic candour in its writing fits that bill to a T.
But there’s also the other side of that particular coin, namely in discerning how pleasant and tranquil something can be before it tips into being outright boring, and Beezewax tend to teeter rather precariously on that line. To their credit, it’s good that they’re able to frame their mid-paced inoffensiveness as a feature rather than a flaw, but when that means that the general slowdown that occurs is a conscious decision, it’s hard not to take umbrage at the fact that this all can feel like background music a good deal of the time. It’s certainly pleasant background music, but between how blurred and low-key everything from the instrumentation and vocals to the production is, and how there’s nothing that has a particularly distinct guitar line or lyrical lead, Peace Jazz’s comfort in simply drifting by can come across as something of a cop-out. There’s definitely a place for music like this, but Beezewax seemingly go out of their way in the placidity, and that doesn’t make for a tremendously compelling listen.
Of course, the bigger picture would suggest that Beezewax’s fans know what to expect of them at this point, and in that case, Peace Jazz is fine. As something to stick on and chill out to, this sort of dreamy, uncomplicated fare is ideal, but it falls apart when put under much more scrutiny, and that’s a breaking point that should have ultimately been moved past. Again, it’s hard to argue with how nice this album is, but words like ‘nice’ and ‘pleasant’ are never used up with the best albums in the world, and that feels like an underlining factor when making the final judgement about this album. It’s worth a listen, sure, but mileage will depend on how much attention you really want to give it.
For fans of: Buffalo Tom, Teenage Fanclub, Superchunk
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Peace Jazz’ by Beezewax is released on 3rd May on Sellout! Music.