Between Ron Harrity's skills as recording engineer, label guru (Peapod Recordings), and guitarist/sideman, he's racking up an impressive resume (see the accompanying review of the Isobell record for more details), and the new Honey Clouds record just adds to the list.
Part of a continuing musical partnership with frontman Trey Hughes that started with the excellent Harpswell Sound records, Fall on the Honey Clouds builds on the tease that was 2007's Earl Grey Demos, which wasn't anything more than it said it was, but still managed to do a good impersonation of a great album. Seven of those tunes have been carried over here, married with five new tracks, and everything's been given considerably more spit and polish.
The results include the terrific guitar tones and songwriting Hughes/Harrity are known for, along with hints at experimental noise rock, some fine extended jams, and the general indie aesthetic for which Peapod is starting to garner national recognition. The rhythm section of Mandy Wheeler on bass excels with backing vocals in crucial choruses, and Sean Wilkinson displays a subtle hand on drums.
They've kept two of Earl Grey's strongest tunes, "Branch Is Green" (formerly "Every Branch Is Green") and "Through the Trees," which are illustrative of the differences between demo and finished product. "Green" was already an exercise in contrasts, between the rambling, skronk-filled open/verse and an ultra-poppy chorus where everyone is "strolling with a blissed-out face." For Fall, those contrasts have been amplified, with Hughes issuing a blood-curdling scream by introduction, sweeter backing in chorus from Wheeler, and the subtle improvement of what was already a cool guitar lick.
"Through the Trees" was already powerfully charming, with a simple "la-da-da-da" chorus and a devastating central hook, but the new version gets Hughes at his cleanest, without the weariness that could be amplified by the Demos. He's free and easy and when "we swirled around and around in the breeze," you don't feel like he regrets it.
Of the new songs, "Hammock" might offer the newest wrinkle, with a lush organ sound in the back, and a more vampy sound in general than usual. Like lots of songs here, there's talk of "basking in the sun" and other outdoor pleasures, but this tune comes closest to true psychedelia, with a counter-intuitive slow-down in the chorus.
Often nowadays, people wonder aloud, what's the difference between a demo and a record anymore? Honey Clouds have shown there's a place for both, for raw and refined, and have offered a cool window into the process of music making.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall On The Honey Clouds, released by Honey Clouds | with Gully + the Rattlesnakes | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | May 23 | www.myspace.com/honeyclouds