Entertainment

Album Review: Black Honey – ‘Written and Directed’

Gemma Cockrell

Stuffed-full of melting riffs and inspired by the band’s love for everything Tarantino, Written and Directed is unapologetically Black Honey. Atop the backdrop of dark, scuzzy instrumentals, frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips tosses the alpha-egotism of classic rock on its head, and Gemma Cockrell hops in for the ride.

Black Honey’s theatrical and cinematic sophomore record, aptly titled Written and Directed, serves as a follow up to their 2018 self-titled debut album. Frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips continues to drive the band with an attention-commanding and fiercely empowering demeanor, combining the attitude of punk-rock heroines with the glamour of a Hollywood film star. She boldly told NME: “I made this record for young women to feel invincible.”

Described as “a nonsense-filled retro world,” lead single Beaches was appropriately released during the heights of last summer when beaches were flooded with visitors as the UK’s lockdown restrictions were lifted. Here, Phillips’ personality shines through via vocals drenched with a sassy attitude and infectious charisma, channeling punk and surf-rock influences alongside experimental brass elements. The track is enough to make anyone want to grab their sunglasses and head to the seaside – even though it is only March.

Back Of The Bar is a sure-fire highlight; the chorus vocals showing off the upper end of Phillips’ range

The follow-up single, Run For Cover, was written in collaboration with Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, and his influence can be heard throughout the track’s relentless, pounding bassline. It centres around the “nuances of sex” from the male perspective – and understandably so, seeing as the track was intended originally for Royal Blood’s own upcoming album, Typhoons. Through performed by a female vocalist, the lyrics are empoweringly flipped to the female gaze, resulting in a deeply thought-provoking listen.

The feminist themes continue with the album’s third single and frenetic album opener I Like The Way You Die, which was accompanied by a music video starring Phillips in the role of a Gothic femme-fatale. Much like Run For Cover, the track is steeped in a no-nonsense sentiment, encouraging the listeners to powerfully take charge of their own lives. “I hope it makes women find themselves and dump their boyfriends,” Phillips said of Run For Cover, and I Like The Way You Die only adds to this notion.

Fourth single, Believer, is slow-paced in comparison to the previous singles. Lyrically, it tackles topics of religious satire, seeking to find spiritualism within oneself, rather than looking to systems of belief. It is still very much a rock song, despite it being more subtle and laidback. It may not capture the listener’s attention as fiercely as the heavier tracks on the album, but it provides the listener with an insight into the feelings of peace and catharsis that emerges once you truly find your sense of self.

Surprisingly, the fifth and final single, Disinfect, was written before the pandemic, described by Phillips as a “premonition of things to come.” Alongside a music video featuring clips of protests and explosions, the politically-charged track serves as an unavoidable reminder of the state of the world today. If you use music as a method to reduce anxiety and distract yourself from reality, then this may not be the song for you. However, it is undeniably essential for artists to use their platforms to speak about important matters, and it is entirely characteristic of Black Honey to use their voices in this manner.

Black Honey are bolder than ever before whilst remaining true to their resplendently outspoken ethos

As well as having a vast collection of impressive singles, the album also has some enjoyable deep cuts. Back Of The Bar is a sure-fire highlight on the record; the chorus vocals showing off the upper end of Phillips’ range, and the imagery of dancing on your own whilst lusting after someone in a bar represents a currently unattainable fantasy that may become a reality in just a few months. However, despite her love-lorn dreams hinting towards a touch of vulnerability, Phillips still seems very comfortable and empowered whilst dancing solo.

I Do It To Myself surprisingly starts off as a purely acoustic guitar-led track, before plodding drums and flamboyant brass are added to the mix, ensuring that Black Honey’s theatrical flair doesn’t fade. The track is a shout for help from someone who is in denial that they need it – a far cry from the self-assured, confident and bold Phillips that we are used to hearing. This causes the lyric “I’m a walking contradiction” to stand out – a reminder that it is okay to be bold, powerful, and fearless, and yet vulnerable at the same time.

Summer ’92 is packed with nostalgia for years long gone from the get-go. The opening guitar riffs sound as if they could have been taken directly from an old-school American TV show classic, mirroring the band’s renowned Americana aesthetic. Told from the perspective of an outsider looking back on a love now long lost, the track is a reflective and infectious dive into summer days past.

Fire again follows feminist themes, and here, Phillips is unafraid to say it exactly how it is, without mincing her words or masking her views. The song is an assertive and unapologetic anthem, celebrating the importance of knowing your own worth and knowing how you deserve to be treated. After the first chorus, the track explodes into a brass extravaganza. The album as a whole cements Black Honey’s new-found experimentation with brass instruments as one of its most unique elements, as well as its most outstanding strengths.

[Gabrielle] is a celebration of the female ability to be simultaneously mysterious, beautiful, and seductive

Album closer Gabrielle is a haunting ballad with a subtle acoustic guitar instrumental which leaves the focus entirely on Phillips’ theatrical vocals. It echoes the femme-fatale Gothic trope which was seen in the music video for I Like The Way You Die. The protagonist, who has the same name as the song itself, is portrayed as having powerfully trapped a man under her captivating spell. It closes the album with a celebration of the female ability to be simultaneously mysterious, beautiful, and seductive.

After the pandemic saw the release of Written and Directed pushed back from January to March, fans will be relieved to know that it was well worth the wait. It sees Black Honey bolder than ever before whilst remaining true to their resplendently outspoken ethos. Phillips fully embraces the feminist movement, becoming a modern-day icon for the empowerment of women whilst embracing all sides of her personality fearlessly within her role as the band’s frontwoman. On Written and Directed, Black Honey open the door to a world of retro nostalgia whilst simultaneously pushing a message of modern-day feminism.

Gemma Cockrell


Sources:

https://www.nme.com/news/music/black-honey-announce-new-album-written-directed-2774813

Featured image courtesy of Chuff Media. Images granted to Impact by their owners. Article image courtesy Black Honey via Facebook. Image use license found here.  No changes made to this image. In article video courtesy of Black Honey via Youtube

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