ALBUM REVIEW: Black Honey – Written & Directed
Brighton-based Black Honey have always been a band centred around dramatics and theatrics throughout their story telling music. Starting out in the scene back in 2014 as an excitingly eccentric four-piece, Black Honey burst into alternative music with their own brand of signature guitar sounds and wild western aesthetics, showcased on their dazzling self-titled debut album, released in 2018. Since then, this bad-ass band has gone onto becoming a big, bold and brave outfit in UK indie music, having earned a Top 40 album, toured the world with the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age, and featured across prestigious festival line-ups. With their fiery sophomore album Written & Directed, Izzy B. Phillips, Chris Ostler, Tommy Taylor and Alex Woodward show no signs of slowing down their ascent to convey the cinematic vision.
Embracing a wider range of genres, from chilled country Americana and glistening electro-pop, to infectious indie and grimy rock ‘n’ roll, Written & Directed is an album that has adopted an ambitious, singular mission statement, that aims to fiercely empower women from all walks of life in ten succulent soundtrack-style songs. Drenched with a bossing it, kickass and anything goes type attitude, album opener I Like The Way You Die does exactly this. An eco-centric anthem to make females feel invincible, I Like The Way You Die deals with managing toxic masculinity and turning this matter on its head, as lead vocalist Izzy B. Phillips promises “Treat me like I am a game/I’ll show how I like to play/I got a tattoo with your name/You like the taste of humble pie/Well, karma’s coming when you lie/And now it’s time to say goodbye.” Accompanied by a team of thrashing tambourines, strutting drum beats and cool piano chords, Black Honey are beacons of hope on this defiant opener, for a bright future for young females everywhere.
Having released half of the full-length in the form of singles, including album opener I Like The Way You Die, second single Run For Cover comes next. Co-written with close friend Mike Kerr (best known as one half of fellow Brighton duo Royal Blood whom Black Honey supported on their UK arena tour in 2017), monstrous bass riffs and dominating drums bleed into the raucous track. The intro is a groovy indie-rock rendition of the riff on Girls Aloud smash hit Sound Of The Underground, as the pair of songs share a twangy, surf-like guitar tone. Backed by a blipping metronome type beat and a killer chorus to match, Run For Cover is a noisy, ready made arena rock anthem, designed to dump your boyfriend too.
Beeches is next, the song that marked the band’s comeback and started the Written & Directed era off with an almighty bang. Beeches is a tune that transports you to a vintage retro era. A song of pure sunshine and delight, Beeches is a tune that transports you to a vintage retro era, exploring a broad spectrum of genres from upbeat funk to classic punk, shiny swing in the brass-led chorus, and rolling surf rock, creating a scintillating soundscape. Full of rock swagger and style, Phillips‘ vocals are attitude-filled and audacious, as she sings “Boys like the boys/They act like the girls/All they ever wanted was the whole damn world/Walking in the wild wearing bad black leather/Singing in the rain in a bad sweater.”
Back Of The Bar and Believer are some of the album’s standout moments. Firstly, Back Of The Bar is a simplistic, dreamy synth song that showcases Phillips’ fragility, as she finds herself yearning to spend long, hazy days at the back of a bar, engaging in conversation with a significant other. In reality, as the chorus conveys in stunning, mesmerising and wistful style, she finds herself dancing on her lonesome and feeling totally empowered by the whole experience. Believer is a woozy, wild western desert adventure, which sees the band make a pilgrimage to find their spirit, faith and belief as individuals. Phillips’ placid vocals portray a heavily religious narrative, somewhat similar to the religious symbolism recited in The Killers’ Sam Town smash When You Were Young, with Black Honey’s song saying: “Found where I belong, I was blind but now I see/I was born right here, on the outside looking in/You don’t look a thing like Jesus/Waited my whole life to sing this” and The Killers’ single stating: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus/ But he talks like a gentleman/Like You Imagined/When you were young”. Accompanied by Texan type twangs of acoustic guitars and classic singalong “Oh, oh-oh-oh’s”, Believer is a proper sun-setting festival song, that wouldn’t look out of place on the anthemic indie-pop back catalogue of Sundara Karma or Two Door Cinema Club.
Following on from the slow burning song of self-doubt, I Do It To Myself, is the gloriously grungy Disinfect. Dirty basslines open the song and bubble away in the background, before the storyline comes into motion, detailing how the political state of the world is in dire straits, with the lyrics “We are just survivors/Addicted to the violence” and “Promise you won’t change/Sit back and watch it burn”. The verses however, are the calm before the storm, as the colossal chorus and earth shattering breakdown explodes into a frenzy of deafening distortions and deadly dynamics. It’s clear to hear Kerr’s influence once more on Black Honey’s brutal banger.
Summer ‘92 and Fire follow, both bringing their own sounds to the album. Summer ‘92 is a cinematic song designed to be the perfect soundtrack to a short film shot through the lens of a vintage super 8 movie camera, capturing nostalgic memories of spreading peace, love and happiness through an overexposed grainy filter; portraying a visual vibe that would be inspired by Lana Del Ray’s Summertime Sadness aesthetic. Whereas Fire amps up the attitude once more, for a track that tackles women’s rights from the get go. Whether that be an awareness of your own self-worth or standing up for collective change, through lyrics like “I’m not yours, don’t belong to you/It’s my body, I make the rules,” as well as “And I don’t care what you have to say/We’re raising hell, it’s time for a change”. Fire is a celebration of feminism in all forms and is a song that is sassy, strong and spirited in its approach.
Album closer Gabrielle wraps up Written & Directed with a beautiful, stripped-back rock ballad. The simplistic spooky strums of the acoustic guitar give way to showcase Phillips’ eerie and entrancing vocal display, one that has us all under her haunting spell throughout this track’s duration.
On Written & Directed, Black Honey broaden their sonic horizons and push their lyrical boundaries further than ever before. Written & Directed is a ten-track statement, from a fearless frontwoman who isn’t scared to speak her mind on issues that matter, giving fierce and world conquering women a platform.
Standout Tracks: I Like The Way You Die, Run For Cover, Back Of The Bar, Believer, Summer ‘92
For Fans Of: Sundara Karma, The Big Moon, Two Door Cinema Club
Written by: Katie Conway-Flood