The duo Honeyblood is frequently compared to The Jesus And Mary Chain, which is a flattering (albeit limiting and superficial) assessment. Sure, both groups hail from Scotland, and each favors fuzzy shoegaze with decidedly lo-fi tendencies. However, their paths diverge from there: Honeyblood—vocalist-guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer-vocalist Cat Myers—in particular takes a bittersweet, grayscale-tinted approach to its girl-group homages, and leverages its minimalist, two-player arrangements in inventive ways. For example, the otherwise-riotous 2015 single “The Black Cloud” boasts a tranquil instrumental bridge with layers of starry-eyed, psych-kissed vocals.
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.