The two-track EP preceding Honeyblood’s self-titled album release was about as lo-fi as they come. The Scottish duo made no attempt to hide this, instead wearing it as a badge of honour: the only description given for the release on their Bandcamp page states that it was “recorded in a bathroom on a 4-track tapedeck”, suggesting that a conscious effort was made to achieve this foggy sound quality (who would put themselves through the bother of tape cassettes in the 21st Century if not to make an artistic statement?) So how smoothly, then, does Honeyblood’s garage band, recorded-in-a-water-closet sound make the transition to a fully-produced debut album?
It’s certainly not altogether unsuccessful. Opening track ‘Fall Forever’ is grungy and energetic with a slight haunting edge; there are some well-balanced rises and falls from loud choruses to quieter verses and back again. The vocals retain a very faint tinge of the indistinct cloudiness of the Thrift Shop EP, but aren’t quite as completely indiscernible.
‘Fall Forever’ is followed up with album’s shortest track, ‘Killer Bangs’. This is Honeyblood at their best, crunching guitars seeming to rush over each other to power through the song, vocals shouting but not aggressive. At just 2:35 the track isn’t long enough to drag or feel repetitive unlike some of the later tracks on the album, and is just enough to leave you wanting more.
However, before long the novelty wears off. What seemed a quirky and distinctive aesthetic in the two songs in the 2012 EP quickly wears out over the span of a whole 12-track album. Songs blur together into continuous sludge, leaving the listener struggling to recall any difference between separate songs.
Vocals such as “All the pain you’ve been through / Will be the making of you.” that would have sounded endearingly teenaged in a low-quality bathroom recording session don’t survive the leap to studio quality sound, instead sounding whiny and repetitive. Similarly, there’s a lack of imagination in the instrumentation that would have been understandable, almost expected, on a self-recorded adolescent demo tape but feels tired and unoriginal in a polished album release.
Nowhere is the piercing clarity of studio recording more painful than on track 10, ‘Fortune Cookie’. The less-than-perfect vocals and relatively simple guitar line would have been perfectly at home in crackly tapedeck fuzziness, but in glorious technicolour the flaws are all too apparent. It’s vaguely reminiscent of starting to sober up in the kebab shop after a night out: everything seemed fine in the noise and darkness, but in bright halogen strip lighting you and everyone around you looks like crap.
There is some small relief to be found in the closing tracks, ‘All Dragged Up’ and ‘Braid Burn Valley’, which provide slight variation on the cut-and-paste noise pop that the listener has begrudgingly become accustomed to by this point in the album. However, it’s too little too late – two salvageable closing tracks are not enough to redeem the previous seven or eight.
It’s a shame, because Honeyblood do undeniably have potential—but at this point it’s far from being realised, instead getting lost somewhere along the way towards this headache-inducing mess of an album.
Honeyblood is out today on FatCat Records. Watch the video for ‘Killer Bangs’ below.