Second album offers a change in direction but is still an impressive missive from one of our most understated songwriters
Over the last decade or so, Katie Harkin has quietly become one of our most treasured national exports. From her early beginnings leading the underrated indie trio Sky Larkin, she quickly became an honorary member of Wild Beasts, before touring with the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Courtney Barnett.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Harkin and her now wife returned to the UK from the States, and ended up living in a small, one-bedroomed flat above a pub in Sheffield. After their marriage in September 2020, they rechristened their new home the Honeymoon Suite, and from that little acorn, Katie Harkin’s second album was born.
Necessity has dictated that Honeymoon Suite is a very different beast from her self-titled debut, or the bouncy indie-rock of Sky Larkin. Electronica takes front and centre on Honeymoon Suite, and with Harkin recording lockdown conditions with minimal contributions from collaborators sent over online, and producing the record herself, this is a genuine DIY album.
That’s not to say it sounds low-key or amateur – indeed, on tracks like the opening Body Clock and Here Again, there’s a lovely synth sheen coated over the songs. It’s intriguing listening to how Harkin has pieced together these songs too: it’s proper late night, headphone listening, with Here Again in particular incorporating little snatches of trumpet and drum machines.
As anyone who was a fan of Sky Larkin would know, Katie Harkin also knows how to write a decent pop song. A New Day is full of the flush of love and happiness, with a nagging, insistent chorus of “she tastes like a new day” that’s guaranteed to stick in many a brain. (Give Me) The Streets Of Leeds is a reminder of the longing for big cities and connection that many of us felt had been lost over lockdown, while To Make Her Smile is a slightly claustrophobic love song, full of slightly unsettling electronic effects.
Long-term fans who miss the swoop and grind of Harkin’s guitar playing may well be disappointed – there is guitar on Honeymoon Suite but it’s kept to a minimum – but this new direction certainly suits her. Mt Merino may well be amongst the best things she’s written, coated as it is in sadness and longing as Harkin “bids goodbye to Mount Merino…do we really have to leave her on the sunniest day of the year” while drum machines and synths propel the song forward.
Only the closing instrumental ambient drone Driving Down A Flight Of Stairs feels like an outlier – it’s eleven minutes long, and while it may make for good background music, it feels like a bit of a slog to get to the end of. That’s not to detract from the quality of the rest of Honeymoon Suite though: another impressive missive from one of our most understated songwriters.