Always busy and rarely settling down, Black Honey have taken an incremental approach to build their portfolio and, thus, their popularity. Instead of releasing full-length albums, they’ve given music fans bite-size morsels in the form of numerous singles and a handful of singles (and it’s approach replicated by other bands like YONAKA). Consequently, the Brighton-based quartet have enough material to fill up a 90-minute concert. Now, they have enough for a 2-hour gig, as their long-awaited, eponymous debut album has finally arrived.
Black Honey validates one simple belief – Izzy B Phillips, Chris Ostler, Tommy Taylor, and Tom Dewhurst are born for the stage. The LP is twelve songs of pure cinema. It ranges from spaghetti western-tinged rockers to disco infernos to intimate pop ballads, and each track features a story that belongs on the big screen. Where the foursome are at the best, though, is when they are at their most ambitious and mysterious and unleashing heart-racing, chest-pounding music, such as on the head-bobbing, goose bump-inducing “Into The Nightmare”. Perfect for a Halloween dance party, the song is like The Bad Seeds backing a modern-day Debbie Harry – a.k.a. Phillips. Her wide-ranging vocals are simultaneously seductive and assertive, as she tells a love story set in the after life.
“Front row seats to a car crash
What I’d do to get you back
Wish you were here beats in my blood
I played along just because…”
“I Only Hurt the Ones I Love”, similarly gets the blood following. The dark and haunting indie-rock approach is colored with gripping, desert Americana, and it provides the perfect backdrop for this anthem for the modern-day femme fatale. She is seeking revenge with her manta being, “I cross your heart and hope to die. I’ll break it just like you broke mine.”
Thunder strikes with the propulsive “Hello Today”, which was released a couple of years ago, and the grueling “What Happened To You”. They represent Black Honey at their heaviest, hardest, and darkest. However, the drama remains. On the latter, reverb-drenched guitars and hammering rhythms fill the air as Phillips’ desperately attempts to solve the mystery and tumult that fills her friend’s mind. A similar puzzle is depicted on the methodical yet gritty “Bad Friends”. The dissonant guitar and stark bass line create the eerie, 2 AM canvass while Phillips’ chilling vocals and gripping lyrics paint the environment. Her words are one part introspective, as she discusses the deep desires that burn inside. On the other hand, she encounters those so-called “friends” who manipulate and attempt to take advantage of one’s subconscious. And those friends are often us.
“Making out plans for a new world.
I’m yours only, but not your girl.
White knuckles, we’re bad friends.
Loose buckles, my conscience.
We’re bad friends.”
Black Honey turn up the volume and intensity with the disco-infused and rapturous “Midnight”. This isn’t a Bee Gees nor a KC and the Sunshine Band tune. It is a roaring, disco rocker that is Blondie amped up tenfold. Sizzling guitars and synths work in unison to deliver a groovy melody like it’s the ’70s while the rhythm section throttles like jackhammers. It’s not, however, a song to seek cover, but instead it’s one of jubilation and excitement. One to celebrate “you the dreamer” and whatever youth remains in us.
When things slow down, like they do on “Wasting Time” and “Baby”, Black Honey still find ways to tantalize. On the latter, the band infuse touches of the ’80s and ’90s to deliver a song of lost and heartbreak. Despite the solemn nature of the storyline, they still manage to find some brightness within the darkness, as depicted by the glistening guitar and Phillips’ delicate cooing.
The soul-infused “Dig”, though, is the zenith of the slower, mellower tunes. Sultry yet urgent, the track is like the soundtrack to a delirious escapade inside a secretive club or cult. Although there is a seductiveness in the song, it is anything but a love song. Rather, it is gentle fuck you to anyone who dares to double-cross another.
“The faded names, scratched in blue.
Forever empty your tattoo.
A tangled web, a lovers’ tryst.
A final nail in your kiss.”
What “Dig” demonstrates best about Black Honey is their ability to create mysterious soundscapes, which they perfect on the equally riveting “Just Calling”. One part Blondie and another part Pat Benatar, the four-piece deliver a hypnotic yet exhilarating number. Brooding synths and a crystalline guitar glimmer through the foreboding rhythms, creating the perfect number of a late-night journey into the unknown darkness. Phillips’ lyrics, though, are the words of the heartbroken woman – the femme fatale – getting her revenge. Her cool, calculated words are brilliant:
“I’m just calling to say how does it feel
Now that I’m not around?
Never meant this to hurt you.
I will let you down
And how does it feel now?”
As those words linger as the album comes to an end, the only answer required is an overwhelming sense of gratification because Black Honey have delivered on their carefully crafted promise. Black Honey encapsulates everything – and then some – that has made Izzy B Phillips, Chris Ostler, Tommy Taylor, and Tom Dewhurst indie favorites in the UK and abroad. It is bold, ambitious, and exhilarating, and a debut record that will be played for years to come and recognized as one of the year’s grandest. The exciting thought, though, is that this young band is just getting started – assuming they find the time to release more albums in the future.
Black Honey is out now on Foxfive Records, and it’s available at the usual purchasing and streaming outlets. The shortcut to all the options is here. The band has a few upcoming tour dates, but then will be traveling across the UK in October. All dates and information are available here or for the October-only dates plus ticket purchases go here. Keep your fingers crossed that they’ll be heading overseas in 2019.
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