Review Summary: Still trailblazers, Honey Harper again find themselves experimenting while cementing their status as should-be country titans.
Honey Harper’s 2020 debut, Starmaker
, was one of those rare albums that seemed capable of revolutionizing a genre. Its fusion of traditional country and spellbinding dream-pop proved to be the sort of tectonic shift that could alter the scene’s musical landscape…if it could only reach enough ears. Unfortunately, as with so many of the most talented artists in the industry, that sort of traction proved elusive for Will Fussell and Alana Pagnutti. Starmaker
was released on March 6, 2020, and the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th. As a result, Honey Harper never got to tour for that batch of dream country gems, and promotionally – in spite of its undeniable beauty and clever invention – Starmaker
faltered. It’s a tale all too familiar for artists across the globe who just happened to be reaching a creative apex at the wrong time in history. While such a setback is understandably disheartening, Will and Alana opted to keep their eyes set on the future, and by November of that same year, the album that would become Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky
Now in its finished form, Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky
represents a noticeable departure from Starmaker
. It’s comparatively stripped-back, loose, and carefree. There’s a full band sound as Fussell/Pagnutti were joined by Spoon keyboardist Alex Fischel and John Carroll Kirby (Solange, Steve Lacy) in the studio. As a result, the record feels less like its own isolated, ethereal galaxy and more like a band jamming out beneath the stars. It still has that spacious, shimmering quality, but its boots are planted firmly in the dirt. If Starmaker
was cosmic dream country, then Infinite Sky
is more like a groove-laden, widescreen road trip through Americana.
Honey Harper’s chief calling card – that silky, ever-smooth voice – still drives the moment, but the surrounding atmosphere is more organic than celestial: pianos glisten across the surface, electric guitars wail like they’re straight out of a scene from some old western, and the drums sound Earthy and proximal. One might deduce that Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky
represents Fussell and Pagnutti making up for lost time on the road, crafting something that would translate well to a live setting while sounding the part on record. The aesthetic transformation is most apparent on tracks like ‘Ain’t No Cowboys in Georgia’ and ‘Broken Token’ – which combine to stamp Infinite Sky
with this very early sense of raw, unfiltered country. There are still plenty of poignant, gently swaying ballads like the graceful, otherworldly ‘Lake Song’ or the touching, piano-wrapped ‘The World Moves’, so if you’re overly worried that Honey Harper lost all of their magical qualities, don’t be.
Not unlike Starmaker
, this LP's best traits are the ones that aren't immediately noticeable. There's the subtle, buried pan flute in 'Reflections', the way that guitar solo really takes off and becomes a memorable hook on 'Georgia', how the drums shift to a jaunty tempo late on 'Tired of Feeling Good', the keys and strings that playfully dance beneath the surface of 'Crystal Heart's utterly breathtaking acoustics, brutally honest self-reflective verses ("sometimes I'm so tired of making music / I just want to live"), Alana's flawless backing vocals which levitate over every harmony like the record's guardian angel...it unravels, in all of its stunning layers, if you'll allow it. In a side-by-side comparison with its predecessor, this album often feels a little dirtier, nonchalant and honky tonk – and admittedly not quite as consistently catchy
across the board – yet, Honey Harper again prove themselves to be thorough and intricate enough as songwriters to transcend what would be, to any lesser artist, inherent weaknesses. As a result, Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky
The best artists are the ones who constantly reinvent themselves, and that’s exactly what Honey Harper does here. They’re arguably still at their best when they return to the styles that charmed and mesmerized us on Starmaker
, but there are also entirely new avenues for success unfurling directly before our ears. On the penultimate ‘Heaven Knows I Won’t Be There’, we’re treated to a gorgeous contrast between Harper’s low register vocals and a breathtaking background chorus. As the conflicting styles intertwine and swell with increased emotion at every turn, it feels like we’re being whisked away to somewhere more breathtaking and profound than we can understand or even see. Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky
feels in-step with this moment; it may not in itself be the instant classic that Starmaker
was, but it’s beautifully suspended between worlds – en route to the next perfect moment. Right now the future of this band feels limitless, and The Infinite Sky
is a suddenly apt title.