Continuing my recent trend of talking about an artist before their new album comes out, I’m following this week’s Song of the Week with a full album review.
You would think that a band called Honeyblood (it’s a self-titled album) would be playing some seriously hard metal, right? You’d be wrong.
Actually, I’m not really sure how to classify them. I’d definitely put them in the “rock” category, but “alternative,” as iTunes labels them, doesn’t feel quite right. Then again, I remember the genre as it was back when we here at 13/31 were angsty teenage 90’s kids, when The All-American Rejects were the kings of alt rock.
No, when I listen to Honeyblood, I get the feeling of indie rock with a punk edge. Maybe that’s a bit influenced by the fact that I discovered them through their AV Club Undercover performance of Green Day’s “When I Come Around,” so take that as you will. But I think it’s valid. The sound is at once clear and dirty in a way most bands can’t pull off — I’m thinking of songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” I don’t mean to compare Honeyblood of Nirvana or The Clash, of course, I’m just talking about the properties of their sound.
It makes sense in my head, I promise.
Honeyblood is a duo from Scotland featuring Stina Tweedale on vocals and guitar (a rather attractive Telecaster), and Cat Myers on backing vocals and drums, though when this album was released, the original drummer, Shona McVicar, was still behind the kit. The album is their debut LP, after self-releasing a cassette (!!!) called Thrift Shop, featuring “No Spare Key,” which later made the album, and a cover of “The Girl on the Left” by The Innocence Mission. It was recorded in a bathroom with one mic. I did manage to track down a stream of the tracks, and the quality is… pretty bad, but surprisingly enough, not too dissimilar to something you’d get if you recorded a live performance on your phone. I would actually love to get my hands on a copy of the tape, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen.
I’m also very curious as to just how large this bathroom was that it could fit two people, a drum kit, a guitar, at least one amp, and some kind of recording equipment. Why would anyone even need a bathroom that large?
Architectural concerns aside, let’s get into the album.
- “Fall Forever” — The opening guitar riff is pretty catchy; it reminds me of Paramore’s “Where the Lines Overlap.” It’s a good riff to open an album with, and the song gives you a good introduction to Honeyblood’s sound — crunchy guitars and raucous drums, with calm sections as contrasts. The verses are very atmospheric, which serves to showcase Tweedale’s voice quite nicely. It’s a fairly straightfoward love song. Well. Mostly. The second verse is a little… unconventional, shall we say? “Fall forever/Straight into your heart/I can feel it punch now/Lamb to the slaughter/I plan my own bloodbath/Scratching on my vein.” Romantic!
“Super Rat” — This is pretty funny, and creative to boot. I mean, I guess telling someone off by calling them a rat is nothing new, but you don’t generally hear that in a song. The staccato chorus — “Scum! Bag! Sleaze!/Slime! Ball! Grease!” — is particularly catchy. Structurally it’s pretty similar to “Fall Forever,” with the sparse verses and hard-hitting chorus. If you’re in need of a fun (and funny) tell-off song, look no further.
“(I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here” — It’s not at all uncommon to see a parenthetical as part of a title, but it’s usually at the end, rather than the start, in my experience. The only one that comes to mind with an opening parenthetical is “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” by Weezer. That’s not really super relevant to anything, to be honest, but I thought it was worth noting. The song itself sounds rather like something you’d hear in those “smokey bars” they always cite when talking about jazz. Part of that is certainly due to the drums — the bright ride pattern that cuts through everything is very evocative of that image, for me. The chorus doesn’t really fit that, though; it gets heavy on the crash cymbals, which drives it to a more punk-ish, almost static-like sound. I am impressed with the fact that Tweedale uses the proper pronunciation of “auf wiedersehen,” which is with a “v” sound, and not a “w,” as most people tend to assume. Not my favorite song on the album, but then again, I’m not always a fan of songs about longing for someone who’s gone (whatever “gone” may mean). They’re just kind of depressing to me.
- “Bud” — The phrase “nip it in the bud” will forever make me think of The Andy Griffith Show, so I kind of can’t listen to this one without being mildly amused. As far as lyrics go, I’m not at all sure what this song is about, but it’s a lot of fun, at least. You can Tweedale’s accent pretty strongly in the final repeats of “nip it in the bud.” It’s a catchy song. Fairly standard pop fare, but with a distinctly Honeyblood air about it.
- “Killer Bangs” — I should make note now of the fact that this is my favorite Honeyblood song (though I suppose since Babes Never Die hasn’t been released yet, that could feasibly change in the near future). In fact, this was the song that I almost used for the first entry in the Song of the Week series. I’m not really sure what it is that makes me love this song so much. Something about the “go, go, go on” in the verse, maybe? The clean chords in the bridge with a dramatic build to the final chorus? The whole package in general? I don’t know. But I don’t think there’s any way to describe the song and do it justice, so you should probably just listen to it.
- “Biro” — Songs about writing are always fun. What makes this one stand out, for me, is the title. Most people won’t understand it, but those of us in the know, which includes you now, will recognize this as a very specific historical reference. László Bíró, a Hungarian journalist, invented the first commercially successful ballpoint pen with his brother in the 1930’s. Longtime readers of this blog will understand why I love this reference, even though I do vastly prefer fountain pens to any other writing instrument. I enjoy the song, though I don’t know that I have anything much to say about it beyond that. The line “If I threw my pen into the sea” makes me a little sad. Don’t throw pens in the sea, please. Use them and love them. Also they’re bad for fish and stuff, I guess.
- “Choker” — Musically this is a great rock song. It’s dark and heavy, and the dissonant chords strewn throughout add a really cool effect. This all makes a lot of sense when you know what it’s about. The lyrics were based on the story “The Bloody Chamber,” by Angela Carter, which features a character likely to be based on the Marquis de Sade. After hearing this, I made the mistake of looking up who he was, having only heard the name with no context. I’ve been sufficiently traumatized. Research him at your own risk, and be warned that both his work and personal history are rife with sexual violence and obscenity. For obvious reasons, learning about him colored my impressions of this song a bit. I’m currently reading the story, by the way, which as it turns out is more of a novella than a short story.
- “No Spare Key” — I mentioned earlier tha this track was originally on the Thrift Shop cassette, and this version is, needless to say, much cleaner. I think this is a love song, but I honestly can’t really tell. I suppose it could be a song about missing someone, or looking back on an old relationship, but the line “I am yours until you don’t want me” makes me feel like it’s more of a love song. Either way, I do like it. And for a song that’s probably positive, it has an interesting mournful quality.
- “Joey” — The guitar in this one reminds me pretty heavily of Paramore’s “The Only Exception,” except this one is more fun. It’s possible though that my opinion is affected by the fact that “The Only Exception” has been way overplayed. Lyrically the song is pretty interesting, being a sort of call for someone to come out of their post-break-up sadness and do things that would more effectively help them move on with life. At least, that’s my read. The ending is sort of an enigma to me, though. Not in terms of the lyrics; I just can’t decide how I feel about it. I like the rhythm, but on the whole it seems out of place with the rest of the song. So I’m really torn about it.
- “Fortune Cookie” — I get a sort of classic rock vibe from this, especially from the intro. I have absolutely no idea why. I love the line that opens the chorus — “You know you’re destine to lose/When a fortune cookie dictates your next move.” I suppose it resonates with me because of my negative opinion of things like horoscopes. Which I’m not going to address now, but suffice to say I trust the scientific studies debunking them far more than any argument for their validity. I also enjoy Tweedale’s almost half-hearted “woo!” towards the end of the song. It gives me the impression that she got really excited about the song but had to rein herself in because it wasn’t a hard enough rock track for a full shout of joy.
- “All Dragged Up” — The first thing I think of with this track is blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” Actually, it could almost be a response. It’s a little bit similar, musically, and they share the theme of growing out of immaturity. There’s probably potential to make a whole playlist of songs that deal with immaturity, to be honest, but that’s not really terribly relevant to this review. This is a solid rock track, that turns on some seriously fuzzy distortion during the bridge. Like, the kind that borders on pure static. It’s pretty awesome.
- “Braidburn Valley” — I’m not sure why iTunes has the title as “Braid Burn Valley,” when the real location in Edinburgh, and the title on the official website, is “Braidburn.” I’ve opted for the single-word version for this review, as that is the proper spelling. This one’s a considerably softer track, a nostalgic ballad. I think Tweedale’s accent is most noticeable on this one. The ending is quite surprising, throwing in some heavily overdriven guitars and the line “Another fucking bruise,” which made me do a double-take. It’s the only occurrence of the word “fuck” on the album, and Tweedale really spits it out with enough force that you can’t miss it if you tried. There’s also a hidden track here that’s less than two minutes long, after a brief silence. It’s a really beautiful song featuring just vocals and piano. I don’t know what it’s called, despite looking around the all-knowing Internet, but it’s definitely worth listening to, and somehow feels like the perfect way to end the album. I wish it were a full-length track, but, you know, insert Rolling Stones reference here.
Honeyblood is, in the end, a really solid debut album. It gets to the heart of what the band is about, and shows that they’re more than pop-punk garage rock, but a fully developed band with a range of ability. The most important lesson here is to never doubt the power of a two-piece band — just look at The White Stripes, if you need another example of how well it can work, or check out Sirsy, an indie band from upstate New York. Sure, you can fill out tracks more by having two guitars, a bass, and drums, but as you can see here, you can strip things down to the most basic elements and I can still sound amazing. It’s impressive how heavy a song with one guitar can get, but I think that’s a testament to Honeyblood’s talent and creativity. I’m definitely looking forward to their new album this Friday, and I’d certainly encourage any rock fans out there to give them a chance.
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