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. The consequential record is more urgent and vital than its predecessor, 2014’s self-titled debut.
The record wastes no time introducing this shift in sound with Intro, a 44 second racket dominated by Myers’ thrashing. Conceptually, the following track is equally quick to set out the band’s stall. Babes Never Die works as a noisy, combative mantra for tough young girls. Tweeddale explained when recently interviewed, “People think little girls are precious, like they need to be looked after. We wanted to turn that on its head; girls fending for themselves, with superhuman strength.”
It’s an idea the duo carry out with real conviction over the first few tracks, both musically and lyrically. Ready For The Magic grabs you immediately with its aggressive riffage and muscular percussion that has a real sense of urgency. It’s as feral as the young girls that run riot in the accompanying video, and it’s got real traction achieved though an untamed energy that fuels a solid and engrossing hook.
Similarly, Sea Hearts opens with a loose riff, but swiftly tightens up to reveal another snappy melody. Lyrically, the song charts an evening out with a best friend revealing the strength and solidarity found in such experiences. Tweeddale howls, “Rollercoaster just to have a little fun…and we’ll break hearts, break hearts, break hearts who get on our way/We don’t give a fuck they’re not our friends and you give me super human strength,” in a paean to sisterhood and friendship that’s wonderfully defiant and unapologetic.
Much like their first record, Babes Never Die will no doubt draw comparisons to bands like The Breeders, Throwing Muses and Hole. These comparisons will be justified, as evidence by their use of sweet harmonies paired with grunge influenced post-rock musical stylings. But that can only be an argument against them if the quality isn’t there, and for the most part it is. Justine, Misery Queen’s hook is as catchy and satisfying as any on the record; Hey Stellar benefits from some lovely intertwining vocals; Sister Woolf has a brilliantly grimy riff and Cruel is a rare quieter moment that allows Tweeddale to exercise the warmer quality in her voice. Equally, Walking At Midnight sports gothic harmonies that build the atmospherics of a tale of girls are out on the prowl who “let the night time be a disguise”.
The record isn’t without fault, and the second half certainly loses some of the momentum built throughout its incendiary beginning. And although there is little to be gained from pointing out there’s nothing new here in relation to the aforementioned acts of the ‘90s, there is an argument that the band could be a little more inventive within the genre they’ve chosen, even if there certainly seems to be an upsurging appetite for girl fronted guitar groups, as the recent successes of acts like Hinds and Haim, alongside the triumphant return of the mighty Sleater-Kinney, will attest.
It’s worth keeping mind also that this is Honeyblood’s first record with the new lineup, and as it’s a jump in the right direction there’s no reason why they won’t build on the fine foundations they’ve achieved here. This album sounds brighter than its predecessor, more refined, sharply focused and coherent. And as Tweeddale sings on Gangs, “You gotta make the most of what you got,” you’ve no doubt their self-reliance and defiance will serve them well.