by Bram Howard
I first came across Honey and Salt by chance at a show I went to with a friend and was blown away by their technical skill and energy. Their sound was like all of the variety, meandering plucking and rolling drums of Don Caballero mixed with a pinch of the soft-spoken, emotional bits of American Football. The band is Wade Allen on guitars, Austin Sears on bass and Benjamin Sams on drums, and, for a three piece, the sound and presence they create is phenomenal. It’s like there are way more layers than just three with all that goes on, and that sound comes across perfectly with their latest full length release Seams of Value.
The main kind of Honey and Salt “formula” on Seams of Value-– which unjustly makes it sound like you can enumerate how their music works, but it helps to give you an idea of what goes on with them– is very clean, crisp guitar melodies, both on the low and high ends, that meander and pluck away at these clipping speeds, creating technical and varied melodies. This lies on top of drums that roll and crash and generally create this blend of flourishes that cohere into this complex backing beat that simultaneously acts as a layer of complexity all its own, beyond being just the backbone. It’s math rock at its finest, and with Allen’s cooing, breathy vocals adding a layer of lyricism and emotion to things, it completes their unique sound.
“Dress Shirts” shows this off pretty well. It starts as a kind of standard, speedy rock song, with jerking breaks of blasting power chords. This is broken, however, by a sudden quieting of things, with the guitars turning into this almost twinkling and sparkling flurry of plucked notes backed by subtle breakbeat-like percussion. This vibe alternates with a return to this kind of start-stop blasting of guitars and crashing drums, creating a quiet versus all out energy back and forth, all glued together, though, by Allen’s signature, breathy vocals.
“Broken Evidence” opens with a very fast, Midwest emo-sounding twinkly melody (a guitar sound that I absolutely love) that quickly introduces itself before basically becoming the song, as all things seem to be built around this phrasing, and osmose the guitars into this heavily layered piece of music. The rest of the song perpetuates this feeling, that quick melody driving all that happens, but drums will crash and roll and seem to have a mind of their own, occasionally dropping into a more standard beat before returning to their musings. Guitars will occasionally return to the core phrasing but will incorporate all sorts of in between transitional breaks and riffs that really turn the song into an aural organism all its own, moving and changing fluidly.
The focus of math rock is a lot of times on guitar and drums, I find, but I find it worth mentioning that Honey and Salt kind of throw this convention to the wind with their music, and “View from Nowhere” is the perfect example. The song is built around this meandering bass line that opens the track, and sounds so cool jogging around like the guitars do, and changing and morphing throughout the song. The song itself goes from this upbeat, rolling bassline to an almost droning shoegaze track, to transitioning into math-y guitar and bass bridges, then running into a full-on, one-two d-beat punk song. It’s so much variety in one song, which is so quintessentially math rock, but done in such a way that is so utterly unique to this band. It’s probably my favorite track of theirs.
Prior to this album, I’d heard a demo and an EP from these guys— along with the happenstance show, of course– all of which gave me insight into these concepts and ideas I’ve been talking about, but never quite solidified for me what was going on with the band. Seams of Value, however, is an absolutely impressive full-length release that brings together everything I dug about this band. It perfectly exemplifies these artists’ sound and talent, and presents it in an entirely fresh and cohesive way that I’d never heard before.
My conclusion: this album is a pretty sick addition to the math rock pool that was just not totally there before, but Honey and Salt put it together perfectly. The hybridized emo-meets-math-rock sound, the layered and entirely various songs-within-songs formatting, and the emphasis on all parts instrumentally make for a very interesting and fresh-sounding album, and one that shows a band that can go in a million directions and succeed at all of them.
Bram Howard is a music writer living in Austin, TX. He also plays in Leche.