by James Fisk
The aphorism “At least we’ll get some great music out of it” seemed to crop up doggedly in the weeks following the 2016 election, when an unimaginable possibility had abruptly become the unprepared-for reality. As many still sat dumbstruck waiting on cognitive tools to somehow appear and help us process and speak critically to a situation that still felt like a bad joke, that banal platitude was often deployed to fill the conversational vacuum. I can’t process it, but I’m sure some artist will, sometime.
Now over a year into this bizarre and exhausting social and political world, Honey and Salt’s eponymous sophomore album from Spartan Records heeds that call. After releasing music in various forms and lineups for almost ten years, the band has settled into its proclaimed final form with vocalist and guitarist Wade Allen, drummer Benjamin Sams and bassist Austin Sears. Together they’ve created an album that feels like both a response to, as well as a refuge from, our cultural-political morass.
The first thing that hits you from this latest LP is the insanely ambitious genre-melding. While the music remains technical and dynamic math rock at its bones, layered in with the atypical time signatures and syncopations are healthy doses of emo, hardcore, punk and pop-leaning songwriting. If that sounds like it shouldn’t work, you’re probably right. But it does.
Anchored in Allen’s spirited and expressive guitar hooks, each song unfolds in a different and often unexpected direction. A guttural roar of the last chorus in the opener “A Nihilist Takes up Knitting” feels at once completely out of place and entirely welcome. “Simple Errors,” the hookiest track with an immediately accessible monster sound, is followed by the beautifully melancholy and understated “But Not Both,” an acoustic solo cut clocking in at barely over a minute.
The record has a strongly political resonance but rarely overtly so, and to its advantage. Allen’s background as a philosophy professor comes through in lyrics both abstract and thoughtful yet not obtuse. His words meditate on a society out of balance, as on closer “Cascade,” patiently observing “Seeking the truth is once a task we made/ Rational aims are now a past mistake.”
Though the album takes dreary stock of our current surroundings, it never slips into cynicism. In fact, rebuking that kind of nihilism is seemingly often at the front of Allen’s mind, as on “Cut the Fabric” where he resounds, “Reject nothing, your skepticism is flawed at best/ I’m awake to some kind of meaning/ Even if it’s fictional.”
Being awake to some kind of meaning, having anything to hold onto in a world becoming increasingly unmoored is a feeling Honey and Salt want to wrap you up in with their work. In some way Allen’s tightly rhythmic guitar riffs seek to impose order over chaos, the lyrics an invitation for solidarity over disarray. The idea that dire political circumstances must result in profound answers through music is misapplied; as Honey and Salt prove, it is sometimes enough to offer commiseration, escape, and a glint of hope for the future.