Album Review of Honey by Katy B.
Release Date: Apr 22, 2016
Record label: Virgin EMI
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Club/Dance, Left-Field Pop
For the third album in a row, Katy B is perfecting a difficult balancing act. Her musical roots may lie principally in underground garage, house and dubstep, but in her first two LPs, On A Mission and Little Red, she has managed to fuse these elements with song-based structures. Honey finds her doing just the same, but this time there is more darkness afoot.
Thirty minutes in to her third album, and Rinse’s leading lady has already danced her way through r’n’b, d’n’b, grime, house and garage vibes. A diverse snapshot of the state of the underground in 2016, ‘Honey’ is an energetic and youthful love letter to Katy B’s clubbing roots. Slick opener ‘Honey’ boasts Kaytranada’s 90’s r’n’b-inflected production and lovelorn ballad ‘Who Am I’ forms an unlikely triple threat with Craig David and Major Lazer, while standout ‘So Far Away’ with Wilkinson is full of rave-ready d’n’b production.
Picture the hunter: With one hand on an antenna and the other wobbling the dial, the hunter paces around the room, pausing now by the window, now in the bathroom, wherever the signal seems strongest. The hunter is looking for a new kind of music — music that radio doesn’t play. The trail leads in between official stations, into the lawless bandwidths, straight to pirate radio.
"When are we ever going to calm down? / Know I should do but I love the sound," sings Katy B over a bouncy Four Tet beat on "Calm Down." Every raver grows up some day, and the singer's previous album, Little Red, marked her departure from London's dance floors in search of a broader pop platform. Or so it seemed. On follow-up album Honey she's changed her mind, like the tired clubgoer who, standing in the cloakroom queue, hears her favourite track and has no choice but to get back on the floor.As a metaphor for music, "honey" works in both club and pop worlds: each style emphasises collective work over lone genius, and promises a blissful sugar-rush.
Katy B’s songs tend to orbit people and relationships, but they’re just as often about rooms, and the way music sounds inside of those rooms, or the way that environmental combinations of music and desire can distort one’s sense of time. "Let history repeat / in parallel lines," she sang on Little Red’s "5 AM," describing not only the small infinities implied by dance music but the recursive structure of desire itself. On her new album, Honey, Katy B seems to want to sublimate herself even further into the texture of her music, as if to emphasize the distinct rooms she finds herself in; each of the producers and singers she works with on the album receives equal credit with her, and most of them are located deep with the roster of Rinse FM, the radio station/label that’s released each of her records.
British underground darling Katy B first arrived on the scene as the teen representative of London radio station Rinse FM and the fresh female face of a resurgent U.K. club culture with the diverse flavors of her debut, On a Mission, taking in house, dubstep, R&B — even grime. Her success spurred on such equally varied and forward-thinking British electro-pop success stories as Disclosure, Jessie Ware, and AlunaGeorge.
British soul rarely sounds this turned up. UK chart-topper Katy B's third album is an ambitious collaborative effort featuring some of the biggest and buzziest producers around. Effortlessly moving between genres, she makes sure to put an R&B stamp on each song, keeping all the opposing styles and approaches from veering into chaos. On the album-opening title track, she unleashes a neo-soul vocal over Kaytranada's sparkling beat.
The 2011 album On a Mission was originally conceived as a showcase for London radio station Rinse FM, with Kathleen Brien employed to provide featured vocals. But such was the draw of the singer herself that the record was remodelled as her popstar debut. Three albums in, however, and it’s increasingly difficult to find the appeal of Brien as a vocalist.
The voice of Katy B is a dulcet contradiction. Kathleen Brien’s everygirl tones remain versatile enough to glide from sub-genre to sub-genre, yet distinctive enough to mark every cut with her scent. It is now ever more recognisable, thanks to two albums straddling the meridian between chart and club. Her third, Honey, finds the 26-year-old hitching her gossamer non-swagger to beats provided by over a dozen producers.
Six years on from her debut, Katy B is on another of her infamous missions. From Four Tet and Floating Points, to the sweet prince of UK garage himself, Craig David, the roll-call for ‘Honey’ is an over-brimming pot of big names; a collaborative hotch-potch of dance music’s talents. It’s an approach that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to consistency.
The impending release of Katy B's third album was announced with an image that displayed the names of all the collaborators. So extensive that it was divided into columns, the listing looked like a poster for an all-day, three-stage dance music festival hosted by the singer and songwriter. Old colleague Geeneus excepted, none of Katy B's collaborators here is involved with more than one track.
In 2014, British electropop chanteuse Katy B came out with sophomore effort Little Red, a glittering dance record that was at once idiosyncratic and accessible. Containing club-ready tracks such as 5 AM and Crying for No Reason, Little Red heralded a moment in which Katy appeared to be one hit single away from international success (she had already experienced critical acclaim with her 2011 debut On A Mission, which also garnered her a Mercury Prize nomination). Katy is now back with an album touted as a “love letter to [her] musical roots in the club underground.
“Honey” the song sounds like its texture: smothered in the sterile ooze of lounge, except what’s lounging is a molasses of British club sub-eras and subgenres, what’s lounging is Major Lazer and Four Tet and Kaytranada and Craig David. The honey in the room, the universal substance, is Katy B’s voice itself, which frames itself as the platonic ideal of the no-name “featured” vocalist from all those rave tunes with a kink for R&B, the “featuring” that constitutes less a main attraction and more an instrumental texture. The voice of the rave that talks about the rave.
There’s a grand tradition of pop stars reinvigorating their careers by working with whoever’s Hot Right Now in tough-edged club music. Diana Ross invented this ploy when, looking to reassert her relevance during the ’70s disco boom, she roped in Chic to write and produce the immortal ‘Upside Down’. Late ’80s Madonna ‘Vogue’-d into the house era with the help of Shep Pettibone; early ’00s Britney caught the urban-music wave with her Neptunes collab ‘Slave 4 U’; and, more recently, Biebs staged a spectacular comeback by hooking up with Diplo and Skrillex.
Kathleen Brien finds herself at a juncture. At only 26, there's a lingering sense that she's never quite managed to get into her stride, never realised the potential signaled by that Benga-produced, dubstep-infused cracker of a debut single, 'Katy On A Mission'. Six years on, she stands as a somewhat lonely figure, occupying a strange place on the fringes of pop, caught between "serious music" and the kind of fodder with which Nick Grimshaw routinely soundtracks the nation's breakfasts.
British vocalist Katy B shakes off the pop leanings of 2014’s “Little Red” and heads straight back to the clubs for her third record. With nearly 20 production collaborators, the record has plenty of invention — and way too many cooks in the kitchen. The busy, unfocused record opens with the singer white-hot with desire on “Honey,” featuring producer Kaytranada’s clever update of Jazzie B’s liquid soul.