Lodmark and Daltrey have found their aesthetic without idolizing it.
With its second album, Devotion, Swedish indie-rock duo Pale Honey begins to crystallize its sound, exploring new ways to create and release tension musically while remaining vocally restrained. At the same time, the pair juxtaposes its cool with more intense and focused lyrics, frequently revolving around the concept defined by the album’s title. The record shows an act still on its way up, but now coming into its own.
The group most often draws comparisons to PJ Harvey – not least because singer-guitarist Tuva Lodmark and drummer Nelly Daltrey are women – but the references are misleading. Sonically, Harvey makes for a good touchpoint, at least sticking to the alt-rock of 15 or 20 years ago–this album’s more Uh Huh Her than, say, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Vocally, Lodmark stays far less emotive; this is neither good nor bad—it simply makes Pale Honey different from both Harvey’s typical work and some of the other bands it might otherwise suggest.
Lodmark mostly stays on an even keel, letting the music pulse around her, keeping the rock taut while seldom give away. The approach avoids mechanical iciness; instead Lodmark often sounds like someone keeping it together. As she explores types of devotion (among other topics), she lets the music do the lifting while she maintains the gravity. The spare garage rock of “Someone’s Devotion” works wonderfully, building a mental world on a catchy groove. “Real Thing,” suggestive of U2, benefits from both its swirls and the slight release that Lodmark provides. Her half-album of restraint gives extra significance to her raised excitement.
The approach mostly works, at times feeling similar to the anthem-resistant anthems of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It can wear over the course of the album, though, as songs blur together. The problem has more to do with sequencing or selection than songwriting, though. The duo, wisely aiming for a more cohesive album, has ended up with tracks that seem a bit too similar.
It’s a small matter, as the writing holds up. “Get These Things Out of My Head,” apparently one of the more personal tracks on the album, expands the music and vocals enough to become the standout track. The song deals with Lodmark’s OCD, and her energized vocals get to the frustration that the disorder can cause. The band plays smartly with dynamics and textures, Lodmark’s delivery and patience a verbal manifestation of the mood created by the music. It’s talented work as a standalone piece, and it’s even better in the context of the album.
Pale Honey hasn’t written its best album yet, but Devotion shows what it’s moving toward, looking for new sounds while building on the use of space and steadiness. At the same time, the album’s more than a stepping stone in its career, being its own fully realized piece. Lodmark and Daltrey have found their aesthetic without idolizing it, and they’ve focused their songwriting into an album-length statement. As they continue to push themselves, this is a band worth committing to.