ALBUM REVIEW: Written and Directed by Black Honey
It's here. It's finally fucking HERE! The much anticipated follow-up (or should we say sequel?) to Brighton quartet Black Honey's 2018 debut album arrived this week and, if you couldn't already guess, we're in love with this indie-rock-meets-spaghetti-western triumph of a record.
With over two years of growth between albums, Written & Directed is bigger and bolder than we've ever seen the band - it's heavier, the lyrics are more personal, the sounds are more experimental, and the horn arrangements brilliantly scattered throughout are a surprising turn for the rock 'n' roll status that the band moulded for themselves with their debut outing. Black Honey's sophomore record sees the band return with a burning vengeance as they elevate their coming-of-age indie-rock to the next level.
With our first taste of the album arriving last July, we've seen a fair few singles released in the leadup to Written & Directed, which wasn't helped by some release day pushbacks. We start the album with three of those singles, opening with spine-tingling stomper I Like The Way You Die, painting a revenge fantasy flick as frontwoman Izzy Bee Phillips sinisterly sings "Treat me like I am a game / I'll show you how I like to play" in its first line. We crash into fast and hard Run for Cover, bubbling with punk energy as Phillips claims her crown as an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. Last year, when teasing the record, Phillips coined the phrase "vagina rock" to describe her song-writing, and she wasn't kidding, as these opening tracks kickstart the album with commanding take-no-shit feminist empowerment.
First single Beaches was the perfect transition from album one to two, with its retro twinge remaining quintessentially Black Honey, while the addition of the horns introducing us to the band upping the stakes in experimentation for this record. Fan-favourite Back of the Bar, which was debuted live at their socially-distanced show last September (one of only two shows they got to play in 2020), sees Phillips' wistfully swooning "All I do / is dream of you" in a chorus made for late-night singalong sessions in your kitchen with a glass of something in hand. It's all rose-coloured romance and sweet nostalgia, highlighting Phillips' luscious vocals at their best.
Believer (which we reviewed in full back in January) is a witty underdog narrative dripped in religious satire, its chorus brimming with sweeping horns and glossy harmonies, and is accompanied by its Kill Bill meets the Exorcist music video, true to the album's Tarantino-inspired title. A hymn for self-destruction, I Do It To Myself reaches its height in the chorus where Phillips' breezy voice sighs over the weighty piano stabs and slow-thumping drum beats. It's less fierce rock 'n' roll and more airy subtly, fitting the lyrics as Phillips fights her inner demons in a showcase of vulnerability, dropping her rockstar edge for a moment.
The album picks up speed again with raucous latest single Disinfect, which claims the top spot for heaviest Black Honey song yet and is guaranteed to open up the mosh pit later this year with its ear-piercing guitar screech and sharp instrumental distortion (full review here). Summer '92 welcomes the return of a classic Black Honey vintage twang as the track was made to soundtrack sunny picnics and summer drives with the windows down, topped with twinkling riffs and scuzzy basslines.
"I'm not yours, don't belong to you / It's my body, I make the rules," declares Phillips on slow-building Fire, partnered with a soft guitar backing, before erupting into a chorus of scorching horn arrangements. While it's not the heavy rock belters of the albums opening tracks, Fire is beautifully uplifting - an anthem of unapologetic self-love and confidence. Final track Gabrielle closes the record on a smoky, delicate note, as Phillips is a woman scorned in Black Honey's version of Jolene. Honey-thick vocals paired with silky acoustic strokes birth a song that needs to be played in an intimate venue with the lights down low and the glow of phone torches swaying gently in the air.
In ten thrilling tracks laced with theatricality, punk-rock attitude, and vulnerability, Written & Directed continues to exhibit Black Honey's range and prove that they have the drive to push their retro-tinted indie-rock to the next level. Phillips settles into her lyrical voice as she narrates a womanhood-centric rock record and opens up to reveal her softer, less polished edges, crafting the band's most personal songs yet, while boldly making a statement of empowerment.
With Written & Directed, Black Honey have graduated from teen-flick indie darlings to masters of cinematic rock - and we already know it'll be the soundtrack to our year.
Review by Chloe Robbins
Photography by Laura Allard-Fleischl