Second album Babes Never Die sees the band refine the distorted fuzz-rock sound of their early DIY years. Nineties alt-rock revivalism is an avenue that’s been explored by a weight of bands in recent years. Yet, while so much of the current crop come off as pale photocopies, Honeyblood recognise that what their predecessors – Lush, Blake’s Babies, Throwing Muses – had was tons of personality.
In Tweeddale, they have a performer who lives up to those forebears, her delivery by turns menacing, defiant and triumphant. This time around she’s backed up by songwriting that places an emphasis on hookiness. Lead Single Ready for the Magic is 90s tweepoppers Bis but with actual choruses, while Justine, Misery Queen compellingly treads the sickly/sour divide in its tale of a curdled friendship. There’s more than enough here to keep them ahead of the pack.
Songwriting-wise, Honeyblood has also improved by leaps and bounds since its 2014 self-titled debut. In fact, the irresistible Babes Never Die completely eschews the JAMC’s lysergic approach in favor of brisk, ambitious songcraft and influences: spring-loaded modern emo-pop (the title track), snarling pogo-punk (“Sea Hearts”), and moody Britpop (“Hey, Stellar,” the Lush-like “Sister Wolf”). The ’60s-reminiscent, garage/surf-rock standout “Ready For The Magic” feels like the Go-Go’s coated in radio static; “Love Is A Disease” conjures Throwing Muses’ sunburned, dizzying noise-pop; and the slinky “Walking At Midnight” is a mist-shrouded goth-pop ode to night’s inky darkness.
Producer James Dring (Jamie T, Gorillaz) skillfully amplifies Honeyblood’s bewitching hooks and taut arrangements, while preserving the band’s scruffy, DIY-pop vibe. (For one thing, the record begins and ends with two brief instrumentals, “Intro” and “Outro,” that are a noise cyclone and rickety indie-pop, respectively.) But even Babes Never Die’s mellower moments—in particular the acoustic guitar-brushed “Cruel,” on which Myers and Tweeddale’s voices combine for empathetic, beckoning harmonies—balance grit and polish. And the record’s unsettled sentiments twist like a knife: When Tweeddale croons “Don’t let your fear keep you here / They’ll turn into quicksand” on “Gangs,” which speaks to the seductive power of class and origins, her caution-filled, wary tone lingers well after the album ends.