A year on from her debut album Kintsugi, This Ship Argo released her second album Always the Bees: Never the Honey. This Ship Argo’s Aileen McKenna is part of the growing collection of electronic producers operating in the North, largely, pandemic or otherwise, on Bandcamp, online and at home rather than in a live sphere. Alongside friends and peers Arvo Party and Alpha Chrome Yayo, This Ship Argo follows her own path and Always The Bees is a worthy second album for a new year.
A lover of synth, This Ship Argo has largely foregone the more abrasive sounds on her debut, with Always the Bees an altogether more subtle outing. The album however kicks off with the discordant and insistent looping arpeggios of ‘Why Are You Like This?’. It’s a warped and anxious pop medley of sounds to accompany McKenna’s repeated questioning of herself or an unknown other. ‘Why Are You Like This?’ is quite distinct from the more melodious sounds that make up what follows.
From ‘Isomer’ things begin to settle, with an instrumental that modulates around a singular theme. ‘Hiding Like a Coward in the Smoke’ is an out there experience of choral voices and ever changing sounds. ‘It’s You, Blackbird, I love’ is another change of tone, with the sounds of birds and rain adding ambience to the sparse piano. These sounds return again on ‘Eighty-Five’ before the album is out. Two transient moments of near quiet and minimalism.
‘Overture for a Séance’ navigates its weighty title with ease and atmosphere. Glitchy experiments in distortion subside into ghostly notes and patterns before flowing again into the groove of the track’s final minute. It’s one of the album’s triumphs, a dark tone but engaging and vibrant.
Benefitting from the contrasts and the wave of instrumentals are the softer melodies of the two remaining vocal led songs on Always the Bees. First is ‘Hum’, released as a single in January. ‘Hum’ matches McKenna’s vocals and a more subdued tone to deliver a moment that is both down to earth and ethereal. “Memories fade but the sound of your voice is a hum” is delivered with melancholy but determination over beautiful backing vocals and organic percussion. The more stripped down base of the song allows whirring synths and bassy drones to punctuate the music, producing something wonderful as the song moves towards its conclusion. ‘Ballydorn’ is in a similar vein to ‘Hum’ but barer still, with slow rhythms like gentle waves against the shore and bringing the album to a close. McKenna’s soft and subtly manipulated vocals call through the hum. Purchasing the album through Bandcamp opens up four remixes, along with the blooming organ drones of ‘To Share a Burden’, which closes this version of the album nicely.
There is a fair amount of contrast amongst the album’s eight tracks, with engaging and hypnotic moments sitting alongside melancholic ruminations and moments that drop into pure ambience. What is clear from her two albums and various releases is that This Ship Argo keeps testing the waters and incorporating new ideas into her synth based sounds, there is intention behind it all. There are times when the album’s flow however is inconsistent, and lead track ‘Why Are You Like?’ seems almost too different in tone from an album where subtlety is key to its successes, but it’s an album awash with atmospherics. At one with its roots in a year spent at home, Always the Bees is at its heart a record of introspection. And just like that art of reflection, one can get lost within it.