If there was ever the idea that Honey Clouds were just Harpswell Sound with a new rhythm section, let their sophomore album, Cover the Forest, dispel it forever. While they might have needed an album to transition, Trey Hughes and Ron Harrity have now bonded enough with bassist Mandy Wheeler and drummer Sean Wilkinson to carve out a distinctively different aesthetic from Harpswell Sound’s warm and sprawling nostalgia.
ALIGNING WITH NATURE Honey Clouds
Honey Clouds are noisier, more bitter, creatures of the present, and quite a bit sillier (I think). While Hughes still crafts dense and poetic lyrics, and sings with his distinctive lilt, much of the wistfulness is gone, replaced by a grit and steel that fits the band’s new(ish) post-punk tone. While we heard hints of this on their debut Fall on the Honey Clouds, you could still mistake them for an alt-country outfit. No more.
From the get-go, Honey Clouds embrace the contrasting harsh-pop organization that was so successful on Fall’s “Branch Is Green,” where the prickly art-rock of the beginning and end was seemingly designed to make the perfect-pop of “everyone strolling with a blissed-out face” utterly delicious. With the opening “Fever Rabbit,” however, they start with a muted and melodic pump organ, accompanied by hand drums, setting up a warmth that is quickly shattered by speaker pops and then the full entry of squawking guitar, crashing drums, and an annoying bird-call simulator that drills right into your eardrum. Combine that with Wheeler’s shrill, girlish-squeal backing vocals, and the way that Hughes’s vocals in the verse are recorded so that the lines jump on each other, and you’re left with a jittery urgency like drinking 10 Red Bulls.
And in “Rabbit” they dial it back not once, but twice. First there is a slow-down into a sun-shiney chorus where “we just acknowledge our own changes with a shrug;” second is an even more jarring transition, backing down to just Hughes and guitar, becoming a pretty pop song where “we stood up and gathered all the hay our hands could hold.”
Finally, they finish the tune with a “la-day-da, da-day-da-da . . . whoo-hoo” singalong that serves as a recurring motif throughout the album, as Hughes and Wheeler periodically finish songs this way with seemingly varying levels of sincerity. Here they sound almost drunken, wobbly, as part of an ultimate finish buried in distortion and sounds that are awfully close to what the smoke monster on Lost makes (or “made,” I guess — so sad to see it end).
Almost like an apology for all that noise, they back that with the winsome “Kites and Balloons,” with a warm guitar entry and straight time-keeping on the high hat, the vocals slow and languid: “The wind that blows across the snow/That’s your breath, I know.” Hughes, as he has throughout his seven years of releases in Portland, again scatters throughout the album the imagery of weather and the seasons, referencing the sweet smells of summertime and the harsh lights of winter. “Sugar” centers around the running of the sap in spring, with a languid chorus like syrup dripping from the bottle. “Of Course” pines for a summer day around the grill with a vampy bass line, punk-lite. “Crumble on the Shore” features bright horns from Todd Hutchisen (Baltic Sea) and Jimmy McGirr (the McCarthys) and “the breeze is soft, and the sand so warm.”