Collections of Colonies of Bees are a Milwaukee-based ensemble whose sole constant member has been guitarist Chris Rosenau, also known for co-founding the post-rock group Pele.
Since he formed Collections in 1998 along with percussionist and fellow Pele member Jon Mueller, the group evolved from a challenging, abstract experimental side project to a more focused, propulsive rock band with a powerful live show. Collections' earliest recordings, including 1998's self-titled debut and 2002's fa.ce (a, combined acoustic guitars with glitchy electronics. By the time of 2004's Customer, Collections had gained several additional members, and their sound became more melodic as well as hypnotic with subsequent releases such as 2008's Birds and 2011's Giving. In 2018, the group released HAWAII, their first album to include lyrics, and their most accessible work to date.
Shortly after Pele released its first album and EPs in 1998, members Rosenau and Mueller recorded a self-titled album of rustic, minimalist pieces under the name Collections of Colonies of Bees. The album was initially distributed as handmade CD-Rs with artwork cut from discarded maps of the world, then issued by U.K. label the Rosewood Union. The more bluegrass-influenced Rance, one of the first releases on Mueller's Crouton label, appeared in 2000. This was followed by 2002's fa.ce (a, which featured unique cover art for each copy of the album. Following 2003's Meyou, a limited CD-R containing an early performance from 1998, Swedish label Pillowscars released Stuck, the first Collections release to feature laptop musician Jon Minor.
Pele broke up in 2004, so Collections became a full-time outlet for Rosenau and Mueller. Jim Schoenecker (aka Pressboard) began playing synthesizers with Collections, and they released limited CD-R Eyebrows, containing reworked tracks originally written for Pele, during Pele's final tour in January of 2004. Collections then moved to Pele's longtime label Polyvinyl for the release of the full-length Customer, a sprawling set of free-form electronics mixed with wistful melodies.
In 2006, Collections gained guitarist Daniel Spack and electronic musician Thomas Wincek (previously known for making IDM/breakcore as Emotional Joystick), and their material became much grander, as they developed into a tight-knit live act. 2008's Birds, an album containing much more rhythmically focused compositions than the group's earlier material, appeared as part of Table of the Elements' Radium series. This was shortly followed by a one-sided 12" titled Six Guitars, as well as a 2009 split EP with Japanese math rock group Toe.
By this time, the members of Collections had formed Volcano Choir with longtime fan Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Volcano Choir's debut album, Unmap, was released to critical acclaim in 2009. By the time Collections released Giving on the Hometapes label in 2011, Mueller and Wincek had left the group, but remained in Volcano Choir. Repave, the second Volcano Choir album, followed in 2013. In 2014, Collections' album Set was released in Japan only.
Following a hiatus, a new line-up of Collections formed, with Rosenau and Spack accompanied by Matthew Skemp, Ben Derickson, and Marielle Allschwang. Returning to Polyvinyl, the revamped group released the lyric-driven HAWAII in 2018. ~ Paul Simpson, Rovi