Honey Harper
Starmaker


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
March 9th, 2020 | 263 replies


Release Date: 03/06/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Are you ready for cosmic dream country?

Boasting lush ambient arrangements, autotuned southern-drawl vocals, and synth/woodwind/string flourishes, Starmaker occupies a rather unique space within country music. With unwavering confidence, Honey Harper has embarked upon cosmic dream country, and the results are far better than one might expect. This development is not totally unprecedented – Kacey Musgraves all but rolled out the carpet for such a progression with 2018’s rich, glossy Golden Hour, a pop-country crossover hit that seemed to gaze toward the stars with both feet firmly planted in Earthly soil. Starmaker could be viewed as that album’s reflection; Harper floats among the cosmos and sings to us from another galaxy – a dreamy, sprawling experience. It’s bold, soulful, and dynamic – and it may very well represent a new frontier for a genre that has been viewed as stagnant for decades.

The album’s genre-transcendence is evident from the word go, as Harper’s vocals find themselves awash in vocoder during ‘Green Shadows’ in what basically transforms into an acoustically-underscored hymnal. As the record progresses, each song adds a new wrinkle to Starmaker: the crystalline pianos and tropical sway of ‘In Light Of Us’, the harmonic vocal layering of ‘The Day it Rained Forever’, the surges of strings that underpin the album’s emotional centerpieces, ‘Suzuki Dreams’ and ‘Something Relative’ (an ode to a friend who died from a drug overdose), the airy pan flutes and flourishing synths that open up ‘Vaguely Satisfied’ like a ravine…the list goes on. With each page-turn is a new discovery; a new reason to keep listening to what is already a very digestible thirty-six minute experience.

What’s most surprising about Starmaker is just how seasoned Honey Harper sounds in this novel approach. The production is nearly as smooth as his namesake, with remarkable attention paid to every detail while these haunting little numbers float around, about, and through you like ships passing in the night. The tracks bleed together effortlessly, creating a mesmeric quality that is underpinned by psychedelic guitar lines and Harper’s folksy whims. His wife and writing partner, Alana Pagnutti, contributes inspiring backing vocals throughout the record, which only adds to the tangible sense that Starmaker is always rising and floating above us in some mysterious alternate dimension.

As the record pivots to its back half, Harper continues to pull tricks from deep up his sleeve. ‘Someone Else’s Dream’ sees Harper and Pagnutti at their most gorgeously intertwined during the song’s late duet. ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ betrays the album’s sense of lucid calm with a pop-rock aesthetic that jolts the album to life, all before sinking into the soft bed that is ‘Strawberry Lite’ – a song that delicately confronts Harper’s fear of flying (and ironically features an audible jet engine during the opening seconds). The final bookend and title track sees his voice slipping from its raw, human form back into the heavily autotuned style that we witnessed at the album’s commencement, bringing Starmaker full circle. The lyrical theme of this record is centered around a self-aware pursuit of fame in the music industry – the way that Starmaker starts with him breaking free from autotune and then ends with him again succumbing to “the machine” is not accidental; it’s symbolic of the mental/emotional toll that his career is costing him. In addition to subtly great lyrics across the board, there are also plenty of keen nods and allusions within the music itself.

Harper’s illustrious debut rarely falters. One could argue that the songs deserve bigger hooks, but Starmaker runs slow like molasses – the more time you spend with it, the more it draws you into its sticky sweetness. Some of the grit and charm of traditional country music is lost in the record’s immaculate production, although it’s a necessary casualty to achieve Starmaker’s pristine clarity. For every possible step backwards there are multiple parallel steps forward, and it’s difficult to argue against the magical atmosphere that Harper has concocted here. This is very lush, star-lit country music that is practically breathtaking in the moment while transcending the typical boundaries of the genre. It's about time.



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user ratings (90)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
March 9th 2020


33585 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Shoutout to Doof for talking me into this, and also for that summary.

Digging: The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Lucman
March 9th 2020


3920 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is lovely. With a Sowing and Doof recommendation how couldn't it be?

EDIT: On second listen I've fallen in love. This is an AOTY contender.

Digging: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

dmathias52
March 9th 2020


1159 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I haven't read the rest of the review, but just that summary has me so sold

Digging: JFDR - New Dreams

DoofDoof
March 9th 2020


7681 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Review is great, you pick up on what it is I enjoy about a lot of these songs. I think, as you hint at in the last para, to approach this as a trad country album would perhaps set the listener up for disappointment.



I’ll even forgive the Kacey Musgraves comparison ;)



Shout out to anatelier for pointing me in the right direction to try this



A few 4.5 ratings up there now :D

Digging: Baxter Dury - The Night Chancers

DoofDoof
March 9th 2020


7681 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

There’s a little bit of Fleetwood Mac and John Grant in the mix here I find.



Despite sounding really comfy almost straight away this is also a surprisingly innovative and unique debut

theBoneyKing
March 9th 2020


18504 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

First spin of this yesterday was solid but second spin today revealed more, I think this will be a big grower.

Digging: The For Carnation - The For Carnation

Atari
Staff Reviewer
March 9th 2020


25611 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

digging this



thx Slex for the rec and Sowing for the review!

Digging: Therapy? - Troublegum

WatchItExplode
March 9th 2020


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

No. But, maybe. I'll try.

Digging: PEARS - Pears

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 9th 2020


33585 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"On second listen I've fallen in love. This is an AOTY contender."

Yep. This started as a 3.5 for me and grew like crazy.



"I haven't read the rest of the review, but just that summary has me so sold"

Thanks - Doof actually was the one to utter that phrase and I thought, you know what, that'd make for a damn solid summary.



"Review is great, you pick up on what it is I enjoy about a lot of these songs."

Thanks very very much appreciated both for the rec and the compliments. I actually found this exceedingly difficult to write about. There's not a whole lot to go on about because most of the songs carry the same general aesthetic. Once I got the opening paragraph out of the way, I felt like I'd almost said everything I wanted to say. I ended up rewriting and rearranging paragraphs multiple times; hope it's not too apparent in the end-product.



"Despite sounding really comfy almost straight away this is also a surprisingly innovative and unique debut"

1000x yes to this. Same reason it seemed difficult to describe. Like yeah it's country with some strings and synths and woodwinds, but it's really awesome and new somehow, I promise!. Trying to distill that sentiment with an ounce of professionalism proved to be more challenging than it should.



"First spin of this yesterday was solid but second spin today revealed more, I think this will be a big grower."

Yes, definitely a grower. Like I said to Lucman I was ready to write this off as an enjoyable 3.5 after 1 listen, glad I kept spinning it. It really draws you in.



"digging this

thx Slex for the rec and Sowing for the review!"

I think this is right in your wheelhouse Atari

DoofDoof
March 9th 2020


7681 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

‘Something Relative’ sounds like it should have been the best song on My Morning Jacket’s ‘It Still Moves’, coming straight after ‘Golden’ in the track list maybe

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 9th 2020


33585 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah that was my initial favorite here and it remains it. Possible SOTY.

Bedex
March 9th 2020


1444 Comments


nice new avatar sowie

Digging: Suffocation - Reincremated

DoofDoof
March 9th 2020


7681 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Suzuki is dangerously close to overtaking it - and the meat between those two tracks, ‘Tired Tower’ is the closest to another 5 out of 5 tune for me.



The closer is also the perfect closer - though less standalone incredible as those three.

DoofDoof
March 9th 2020


7681 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The more I listen the more I imagine Jim James of MMJ sitting there and thinking ‘can I start again on my solo career? where’s the reset switch?’

Atari
Staff Reviewer
March 9th 2020


25611 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

agreed with the comments about this getting better with the 2nd listen



first listen was pleasant but round 2 was quite moving

zakalwe
March 9th 2020


30251 Comments


Honey Harper? Bloke must be an absolute grower.

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 9th 2020


33585 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Circling back to the Kacey Musgraves comparison: I immediately felt like this sounded like Golden Hour meets Bon Iver. Am I wrong?

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 9th 2020


9418 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

AOTY at the moment, this is heavenly.



Can't decide if this is getting my first 5 of the year or not

Digging: The Weeknd - After Hours

WatchItExplode
March 9th 2020


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I guess we'll see about that second listen. Nothing will erase that album art though.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
March 9th 2020


25611 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Someone Else's Dream sounds like Jethro Tull



this is legit soooo amazing



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