Coasting toward Honey Cutt’s new album

March 6, 2020

Chums hosted a pair of musical acts last week, and among them was a performance by Floridian-turned-Bostonian artist Kaley Honeycutt. Previously releasing under the title Baby!, her band changed its name to Honey Cutt in anticipation of the release of their second full-length album, “Coasting.” The new album is set to hit digital shelves on the 13th, and the Brandeis performance marks the second in a 20-plus stop publicity tour. I actually missed out on last week’s Chums night completely, which is a shame because Honey Cutt turned out to possess the opposite of my expectations.

My initial dismissal came from the baseless assumption that Honey Cutt was just another indie girl sound with songs about boys and privileged apathy. After listening to the three “Coasting” singles already available for streaming, I was pleased to find that, while this band indeed sounds indie pop as hell, the words and sounds offer something not so generic. It might not be a profound experience, but the songs are an escape into a world of claustrophobic suburbs and endless solitude. The artist seems to be caught up in moving to a new place, and the listener gets to experience this complex emotion with her.

The Coasting singles carry themselves on the wistful air of a Florida getaway with an undercurrent of cool dissatisfaction, which fits with the band’s (strongly) advertised narrative of a sunny Floridian artist escaping to New England. Booting the preview songs up for the first time, I was immediately taken back to the band Tennis, which might not be a useful comparison. The genres aren’t exactly the same, but both enter with a steady drum and a high reverb guitar that injects distance into the music. It’s the same feeling you get from listening to the Beach Boys. That is to say, if you are part of that crowd that finds the Beach Boys sad (how can anyone listen to “Good Vibrations” and not be immediately overwhelmed with intense pity?). Either way, Kaley Honeycutt sounds like she is singing into an ocean breeze. The electric guitar and straightforward beat is enough of a callback to the jangle pop of the 60s that the listener is displaced. They are the kind of songs that induce nostalgia even when there is nothing to really be nostalgic about.

Funnily enough, I would not recommend listening to the titular track first. If you want the best introduction, queue up the single “Suburban Dream.” It demonstrates the aforementioned tonal mixup. The upbeat jangle is pierced by the drawn out melancholy of Honeycutt’s lyrics. The song, which seems to be about the artist’s old Floridian suburb, sounds sunny and warm, but the constant choral repetition, the moaning of the line “I have been here in this place all my life” speaks to an obvious exhaustion. The idea of being a “suburban dream” is suddenly not so fun when she follows up with the line “I am an expectation.” The writing isn’t exactly Bob Dylan, but there isn’t any harm in a little suburban existentialism every now and then, especially when it sounds good. I particularly love the part of the song when Honeycutt sings, “I am a sunkissed succulent” after producing this trumpet-like tooting noise with her guitar. The background vocals, which unfortunately don’t play a larger role in the rest of the song nor in the rest of the singles, let out this addictive “aw!” that I wish I had the sound bite for. The latter half of the song is characterized by an unlikely guitar solo that does a guitar solo’s job well. This song alone will be my excuse for checking out the whole album on release.

That is not to say that the other two singles aren’t any good, but they did not stand out so much. “Vacation” comes out fast, but the lyrical juxtaposition isn’t as clean. The singing takes a back seat to the guitar work, occasionally coming forward for the buildup towards the titular line “I’m on a vacation!” On the first listen, it might not be totally obvious that the artist is singing about being fed up with nice boys. This is actually the only song of the three singles about relationships, and I am curious to know how many of the songs in the final album will follow this theme. I am simply not as interested in Honeycutt’s take on relationships as I am about her sense of place.

“Coasting” is the most emotionally impactful of the songs, even if it isn’t the best of them sonically. Honeycutt’s ability to sing like she is screaming without actually screaming is on great display here. After a slow start, the instruments suddenly go off around the one minute mark and the tempo picks way up. The singing seems to get louder too, even if it isn’t. The mood of the song is difficult to pinpoint. Honeycutt sounds like she is constantly picking herself up over and over again. The lyrics paint a picture of a dysfunctional family between an unmentioned father, a crying mother, and a brother that has “gone out again.” Again, despite the upbeat music, there is something wrong. We aren’t made privy to the exact details, and that is fine. It definitely sounds like a mid-to-late album track, and it is.

I think I have come to like Honey Cutt more after writing this. Her songs, regardless of your thematic inclinations, are the kind of airy pop that you need when you want a mood but you don’t want tripe. I eagerly await the full album release, and I hope Kaley comes back around to Waltham some day! As a Boston-based performer, I am sure she will not be hard to get ahold of should the craving come again.

Menu Title