Honey Owens has already released solo albums Blood Is Clean and Naked Acid under the moniker Valet, but Nature finds her recruiting her partner Rafael Fauria and Mark Burden, expanding out into a band and altering her outlook and sound considerably. The result is a project that sounds like a band, rather than a solo project with an occasional hired hand helping out.
In the past, Owens has spoken about making music by channelling sounds and ideas, like a shaman might do. Initially intended as a new Miracles Club album (Owens and Fauria’s house/psych incarnation) the songs that presented themselves to Owens were clearly from a different place and suggested that it might be time to reanimate Valet.
What’s immediately obvious from the outset is that this is an album that sounds elegant and expansive. Whilst no slouch on guitar, Honey Owens’ approach has, until now been fairly wild and a little rough around the edges. After years away from Valet, and her focus being on her family and Miracles Club, it’s not surprising to find that her attack and technique has developed and softened a little. Owen’s work has always been intriguing, instinctive and pushed at the boundaries (the improvisational aspects of Jackie O Motherfucker or Nudge for example). But despite Nature’s cosmic sounds, the tight production this time around gives the band a real focus and edge. Opening track Sunday begins with gentle, blissful guitar strums that echo and shimmer beautifully. Owens’ vocals hang in the air spectrally, almost barely there. From the second that Nature starts, it is enchanting. Then the bass and drums kick in, and you’re suddenly swept away with the song’s simplistic but effective pulse.
The title track continues to establish this new approach, with its layered vocals and hazy laidback strum, it’s a wonderfully dreamy vista that brings to mind the likes of Cranes and Hope Sandoval. Signs changes tack a little, and strips things back entirely. It’s like being briefly woken from a beautiful dream for a few seconds. The hum of the amplifiers is audible, the guitars are not swamped in reverb and Owens vocal is at its most direct. There’s still a languid feel, but it’s not as immersive as can be found elsewhere on the album.
Lion returns to the shoegaze haze, with Owens’ voice sweeping elegantly over its simplistic but effective guitar motifs and lolloping, lazy drums. Both Nowhere and Clouds utilise Owens’ voice as an instrument rather than attempting to vocalise anything tangible. Nowhere’s soft focus drones and shifting bassline is somewhere between haunting and delightful, for just a moment, it shares a similar headspace to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Rhinoceros, before it tugs on the coat tails of the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Clouds seems a little more positive, indeed it is the sound of sun breaking through the clouds, rather than anything dark and pendulous. There’s still a shoegaze vibe here, but it’s married to chillout aesthetic and utilises the skills that Fauria and Owens put to good use in Miracles Club.
Closing the album is Child, a song that echoes and chimes delicately sounding like a barely remembered nursery chant. Musically simplistic, it has the immediacy and slightly woozy quality that the Velvet Underground possessed and that Dean Wareham channelled via Galaxie 500, although Luna (his band with Britta Phillips) is perhaps a more accurate comparison. Nature is a massive step for Owens and Valet. It’s been seven years in coming, but Nature has most definitely been worth the wait.