Guitarist Mabel Suen (last heard as the sax player for the Ultraviolents) and drummer Joseph Hess (Sleep State) make quick, shouted song-bursts as Spelling Bee. Suen gets an awesomely ragged tone out of her guitar, with a mix of distorted crunch and warm reverb; were it not for the jagged, nail-bomb guitar figures, it would be a great classic-rock fuzz sound. For his part, Hess attacks his drum kit as if it were in danger of running away from him: The beats become fast and furious for a few seconds, then settle into a groove, then speed up again. As with his other band, Sleep State, Hess' rhythms are too scattershot to be math-rock, but the shifting tempos keep the vibe terminally unsettled. The pair often sings in unison, and while it's often tough to figure out what exactly they're saying, it sounds urgent. Spelling Bee contributes four songs to the split Solstice, and each features fuzzy-but-nuanced guitar parts and plenty of yelling. Hess takes the lead on "Famous Clone," giving a full-throated performance like he's singing Black Flag songs from the bottom of a well. Meanwhile, Suen shouts her parts like a cheerleader from Hell. For a first release, Spelling Bee sounds assured in its loose-limbed but serious style of hardcore.
Spelling Bee shares this split with Houston's Stove Blow, and the Texans offer a psychedelically melodic yin to Spelling Bee's aggro-punk yang. At times the band summons the reverbed ambience of early Clientele records, but the heavily treated sounds suggest a streamlined Animal Collective. The sharp, summery guitar strokes and burbling organ chords of "Alone in a Bar" have one dreaming of tiki bars and white-sand beaches until the beat drops and the surf-rock turns into a rockabilly ballad. This is the dynamic for Stove Blow's four contributions: set a breezy, relaxing tone and then blow it to hell with an increase in distortion and BPMs. It's this appetite for destruction that makes these two bands good partners in crime for Solstice.
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