Release Date: Oct 28, 2016
Record label: Fat Cat
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Noise Pop
Can a two-piece survive without half of its lineup? That was the question raised when Honeyblood drummer Shona McVicar left the Glaswegian duo shortly after releasing their self-titled debut in 2014. Two years on though, with new drummer Cat Myers joining singer/guitarist Stina Tweeddale, Honeyblood v2.0 are not just surviving but thriving. Second album Babes Never Die sees the band refine the distorted fuzz-rock sound of their early DIY years.
If it wasn’t for the distinctive twang of Stina Tweeddale’s vocals, the Honeyblood heard on ‘Babes Never Die’ could easily be confused for a totally different band to that of 2014’s self-titled debut. Well, it’s half true: ’new’ drummer Cat Myers stepped in just months after its release, and what had been committed to tape as soft, almost dream-like recordings quickly beefed up. The pair’s early live shows together often featured Stina forced to play catch-up on her own songs, such was the unfamiliar ferocity of Cat’s stick-work.
If there’s a point that needs making about the first Honeyblood record, it’s that a lack of original ideas on an album doesn’t automatically mean it’s lacking in substance. There was little in the way of wheel reinvention on Honeyblood, but besides that, they didn’t get much wrong; it overflowed with hooks and melodies, took a refreshingly direct lyrical approach and burned with the sort of verve and assurance not normally the preserve of debut efforts. The talking point shouldn’t be that Stina Tweeddale naming her band after a line from Hole’s ‘Gutless’ serves as evidence of her preoccupation with the Nineties.
Glasgow’s Honeyblood, aka Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers, are back with sophomore album Babes Never Die, a follow-up to 2014’s self-titled debut. Boasting 12 tracks, with the first and last acting as musical bookends, it's a well wrapped package with no obvious signs of ‘difficult second album syndrome’. After the crescendoing mantra of 'babes never die, babes never die' on Intro, we're thrown head first into the heavily percussive title track, complete with a supremely catchy chorus.
Honeyblood’s sophomore record comes off the back of a lineup change. When there’s only two of you in the band to start with that’s likely to be pretty significant. And significant it is, as when Cat Myers replaced Shona McVicar in 2014 she brought with her a more thunderously heavy drum style, and vocalist and guitarist Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale has fed off that energy.
On their self-titled debut album, Honeyblood managed the difficult feat of finding new ways to tell familiar dark tales of heartbreak, isolation and rejection. Singer Stina Tweeddale observed the fractured and fraught interpersonal relationships of others and crafted intelligent songs that blurred the line between autobiography and fiction. The resultant album was a refreshingly ragged pop/rock album.
Honeyblood’s 2014 debut would have been a stronger proposition had it not been so indebted to Best Coast’s brand of upbeat surf-indie. A line-up change for the follow-up, with Cat Myers having replaced Shona McVicar on drums, doesn’t signal a huge departure: the midtempo songs are relentlessly sunny, at odds with the conflict-ridden lyrics; sugar-rush choruses are arrived at swiftly and adeptly; Stina Tweeddale’s vocals still recall those of – yes! – a Caledonian Bethany Cosentino. But things are less predictable when they deviate from their template: Hey, Stellar finds Tweeddale cutting down on the bravado and is lovely for it.
Babes Never Die, a pretty fluffy title by any standards, doesn’t do this Glasgow duo justice. The 11 tunes on the band’s second LP are stuffed with energy and infectious choruses without outstaying their welcome, rarely hitting four minutes. In addition, singer/ guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers have a knack for a close harmony and a killer chorus.
Between their self-titled debut and Babes Never Die, Honeyblood went through some big changes. Most notably, founding drummer Shona McVicar left shortly after Honeyblood's release, with Cat Myers replacing her on the throne. For her first album with the band, she and Stina Tweeddale recruited producer James Dring, who has also worked with Gorillaz, Jamie T., and Lana Del Rey -- artists who aren't exactly similar to the fizzy yet wistful sound Honeyblood crafted on their debut.
These shreddin' Scots have cashed out the dreamier guise of their self-titled debut for more jagged edges on this boldly-titled follow-up. You'd still never guess that they're only a two-piece (guitarist/singer Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers) by the way the distorted crunch of the former's overdriven amplifier just spills out of both speakers on almost every track. This more concentrated attack doesn't necessarily translate into the same bite they displayed previously, however, perhaps due to the polish that lifts it away from their prior, lo-fi charms.
The duo Honeyblood is frequently compared to The Jesus And Mary Chain, which is a flattering (albeit limiting and superficial) assessment. Sure, both groups hail from Scotland, and each favors fuzzy shoegaze with decidedly lo-fi tendencies. However, their paths diverge from there: Honeyblood—vocalist-guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer-vocalist Cat Myers—in particular takes a bittersweet, grayscale-tinted approach to its girl-group homages, and leverages its minimalist, two-player arrangements in inventive ways.
Unlike their debut album, not all of the songs on ‘Babes Never Die’ are about the band’s leader. The aforementioned ‘Sea Hearts’ is about a friend of Tweeddale’s, and elsewhere she dabbles in character studies.All of them are people you could do without – ‘Sister Wolf’’s protagonist is painted as a sly creature, ‘Hey Stellar’ focuses on a betraying “bitch” and ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ is – as the song’s title says – a complete sourpuss. If only she had Honeyblood’s tempestuous second album to help her vent her frustrations.
Just a few years ago, Honeyblood were recording their first two-track cassette in a Glasgow bathroom. Yet in no time at all, the Scottish indie-pop duo transcended their scrappy DIY beginnings, garnering comparisons to The Breeders and bagging support slots with Courtney Barnett. It was a shock then when only two months after the release of their self-titled debut and riding a wave of buzz and fuzz, drummer Shona McVicar up and left the band.
As we prepare to publish our Year-End lists (hit: it's coming very, very soon), that doesn't mean we'd still ignore our regularly scheduled Quick Takes feature. Carl and I, however, do have to acknowledge that because of the madness that goes behind-the-scenes this time of year, this month's will feature a smaller quantity of reviews. But also, due to the fact that November is categorically known as a month without too many releases.
Emma Johnston on the latest releases by Vanishing Life, Honeyblood, The So So Glos, The Empty Page and Super Unison Vanishing Life - Surveillance Walter Schreifels has never been one to rest on his laurels. Having kicked New York punk ass with Gorilla Biscuits, perfected post-hardcore with the kingly Quicksand and knocked radio-friendly alt.rock out of the park with Rival Schools, he’s back with this supergroup (of sorts) featuring members of Rise Against, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Bad Religion. If you find overachievers irritating, look away now, cos the bugger’s only gone and done it again.