Guitar-drum duos are supposed to be loud and heavy, playing some mix of The Black Keys-style bluesy garage rock or the thunderous rock of Japandroids or Royal Blood. It’s a proven fact – or so we’ve been told. Gothenburg duo Pale Honey, though, are no ordinary duo. Their debut EP, Fiction, and first LP, Pale Honey, showcased the pair’s ability to strip back the genres and create gripping indie rock, but they take their brooding artistry to another level with their sophomore album, Devotion.

Tuva Lodmark (guitar/vocals/songwriter) and Nelly Daltrey (drums/principal songwriter) have crafted a record that can only be described with one word: spellbinding. The entire record is an experience into the innermost part of your subconscious, as the duo share stories related to love and heartbreak, dealing with anxiety and depression, and determining fact from fiction. The opening entry into Pale Honey’s psychological examination is “Replace Me”. From Lodmark’s dissonant guitar to Daltrey’s paralyzing drumming, the song is stark and harrowing. But like a great film, your attention never waivers. You become fully focused on the story about one person’s fixation with an ex.

“Someone’s Devotion” is darker and more sinister. What starts out like a pummeling White Stripes’ track turns into a quietly menacing track. Lodmark’s vocals take the form of a soft whisper, and this only heightens the song’s drama. As the song builds, delirium sets in, and you become immersed in the protagonist’s attempts to free herself from another person’s obsession:

“I don’t want it
Learn to leave it
Let it go
This was so good long ago.”

A similarly bleak but beautiful atmosphere sets in on “The Heaviest of Storms”, as Lodmark’s voice is stricken with pain and memory. With incredible instrumentation the two create a soundtrack for lonely walks in the pouring rain. The mood is broken occasionally, as the lightning flashes of Lodmark’s electric guitar and the slight tremble of thunder from Daltrey’s drums brighten the sky.

But not everything is foreboding on Devotion. The first of a handful of feverish and anthemic rockers is “Get These Things Out Of My Head”. Akin to the other songs, Pale Honey gradually suck us in, teasing us with a shimmering melody and a tingling, nervous energy. The song suddenly reaches another level. Intensity and rage grow, as Lodmark’s vocals become more urgent and desperate. She hollers to anyone nearby, asking them to help her overcome the demons in her mind. The entire number is a psychological roller coaster ride, but its finish isn’t one of exhilaration.

Pale Honey get into the garage-rock spirit with the heavy “Golden”. The pounding bass drum and the delayed, echo guitar drive set the tone, inducing rhythmic head banging. Like other garage rock tunes, this one slowly builds into a growler. The duo, however, never take the song to the predictable climax, but instead pull it back and let it fade.

“Real Thing” is memorable, and it’s one of the rare “brighter” tracks on the album. The song is simultaneously gritty and wistful, but its story is a surprising one. It is not simply a love song. On the contrary, it is an obsession gone wrong, as reality imitates fiction.

“Pull your gun / and knock me over / Get it done / Please come closer
You’re the real thing / Come get over / Come on closer
You’re the real thing / So roll me over / And lean in closer.”

A languid vibe echoes on the intimate and heartbreaking “777 (Devotion, Pt. 2)”. The song reveals another side of the band who demonstrate they can also churn out stripped back, indie-rock ballads à la Angel Olsen. However, the best of the lo-fi tunes is the stunning “Sweep”, a gut-wrenching, introspective number about dealing with loss and loneliness. As Daltrey’s percussion and a taut synth patiently beat in the background and the electric guitar gently stammers away, Lodmark’s hushed vocals are mesmerizing. Her words are even more gripping, and the climax is a thing of beauty.

“There are days when time
Seems to have no end
You belong to them
And I belong to no one
Always stuck behind
I’m stuck inside my mind
You are what I loved
And all what I’ve lost.”

The album ends in the same way it began – with a bruising, introspective, but dazzling thumper in “Why Do I Always Feel This Way”. The song is one part Yeah Yeah Yeahs and another part Sharon Van Etten, as the two unveil their souls and emotions about being left behind. About another person stealing the heart of the one they loved and feeling abandoned once again.

“Through the heaviest storms
I know I can carry
The weight of your world
If only you’d would let me
Can you lock up your heart
Tell me I’ve won
Then you can be my love
I can’t wait.”

On this occasion, Tuva Lodmark and Nelly Daltrey may not have won the hearts of someone they devoted. However, with Devotion, they have crafted an album that surely will see many flock to their sides and announce their fandom for their artistry. We proclaimed ours in 2016 when we named them artists to watch, and Devotion confirms our belief in the duo. It is not merely a terrific album but one that fans will remember for a long time due to its emotional impact. Deeply introspective and psychological records don’t get much better than this.

Devotion is out now via Bolero Recordings, and it is available for purchase and streaming at the usual sites found here.

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