Click to hear: “Living Room”
Honey Clouds is basically the new incarnation of Harpswell Sound, the acclaimed alt-country outfit formed in 2002 by singer-guitarists Trey Hughes and Ron Harrity. Harpswell had a solid four-year run during which it released an EP and two full-length albums – the second of which, Let’s go anyway, drew the attention of famed indie-rock producer and musician Kramer, who mixed, mastered and added organ to it.
A year or so after anyway, Harrity and Hughes recruited a new rhythm section – former Diamond Sharp bassist Mandy Wheeler and drummer Sean Wilkinson (an art director of this publication) – and Honey Clouds was born.
Earl Grey Demos is the catchiest album Harrity and Hughes have yet released. There are shades of the pair’s alt-country roots here, but mostly Demos rocks. The guitars alternately jangle a la early R.E.M. and crunch like Crazy Horse. Killer riffs abound. The new group’s exuberance is palpable, a feeling reinforced by the fact Demos was recorded live one Saturday last December at their practice space in the New Systems Laundry complex in Bayside.
Having shed any pretense of singing in key several years ago, Hughes has since developed a flat, languorous vocal style that’s distinctive and, once you get accustomed to it, cool. On Demos, that stoned-out tone gives way to a spirited yelling of sorts more often than not. Hell, you’d yell too if you’d written a batch of songs this good.
David Pence well captured the first song, “Breeze,” in his most recent edition of The Online Underground. That track’s a taste of the slower, more off-kilter vibe on this 10-song release. The next one, “Through the Trees,” is a bright, poppy number that kicks into another gear for its sing-along chorus.
“Lunch Detour” is a meandering country shuffle that lopes and skips along for a pleasant five minutes. The following track, “Ribbon,” begins with an electrified country-folk lick and soon gets rolling, only to hang itself up on a delicious stop-start chorus before blooming into a ragged and glorious third section that won’t leave your head for days.
“Every Branch is Green” sounds like the damaged intro to Pavement’s “Silence Kid” stretched out over several minutes, with a noisy chorus of the Young-Sampedro persuasion thrown in. And it works! “Everyone’s strolling with a blissed-out face,” Hughes hollers, “There’s a swarm of sailboats comin’ off the bay / I don’t know the name of a whole lot of plants / But our garden looks like it wants to dance.”
Whereas anyway was all about winter and gloom, Demos is all about summertime. “Slow summer rock” is the apt tag on the band’s MySpace page. “Spinning From Tops” practically leaps from the speakers with the joy of winter’s end; “Living Room” begs to be played at top volume while speeding down 77 with the windows open.
Demos ends with “Weathering,” a song that sounds like a rumble between The Feelies and Fugazi (The Feelies win). Harrity and Hughes lock in on some ferocious guitar parts, while Wilkinson and Wheeler keep a hold on the groove behind them. The rhythm section does a solid job throughout these 10 tracks, especially considering they were all recorded in one day. The band plays its first gig next Friday.
Sean tells me Honey Clouds intends to polish these songs into a proper album later this year. Demos is a damn good release as-is, but you can hear how much better these compositions would be with some fine-tuning and studio-quality recording. Wheeler’s backing vocals, for example, could be more prominent, intertwined guitar lines sharpened, bombastic dynamics blown up…
Like I said, hallelujah!
— Chris Busby
Earl Grey Demos is available at Bull Moose Music. Honey Clouds plays a gig with Phantom Buffalo and Dan Blakeslee on Fri., Jan. 25, at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Call for cover (21+). 879-8988. http://www.portlandempire.com. For more on Honey Clouds, see myspace.com/honeyclouds.