I hate the term “indie rock.” It’s overly reductive and, at the same time, so vague as to be effectively meaningless. But until anyone can really agree on the delineation between garage rock and lo-fi rock and bedroom rock and basement rock (while providing more than exactly one band as an example of each), and until those distinctions offer any utility to the average music listener (I’m not convinced they ever will), I think we’re stuck with it. So what are we to do with a band like Pale Honey? They’re indie rockers for sure, but their debut LP is so much more than that category implies.
The duo consists of Gothenburg Swedes Tuva Lodmark and Nelly Daltrey, who have been playing together in various forms since elementary school. While it would be presumptuous to say that they have great chemistry, having never seen them perform live, they’re certainly able to transmute their minimalist union of guitar, vocals, and drums into something more enthrallingly unpredictable than it has any right to be. The ingenuity displayed on Pale Honey suggests a creative rapport between the two friends that most groups would kill for.
What makes their sound so captivating is its dynamism. Both within tracks and throughout the album as a whole, they jump from quiet, reserved vocal or synth lines to full-on walls of distorted guitar with little warning—but it never feels erratic. Every move is made clearly and confidently, and though any given tonal shift may be explosively abrupt, it’s always tied back in with an earlier theme. Often, this type of songwriting can come off as muddled or overwrought, but Pale Honey manages to keep it clean by paring everything down to the essentials.
This is most evident on “Youth,” which opens with an almost comically simple synth line. It’s gradually joined by Daltrey’s percussion and Lodmark’s laid-back vocals, until suddenly, with only a measure’s warning, it roars into cacophonous life and holds nothing back for the duration of the chorus. Then, just as precipitously, we’re right back in the opening instrumentation. There’s no hang time, no dallying—when they’re done with a section they move on. “Fish,” “Bandolier,” and “Fiction” follow a similar pattern, albeit with varyingly capricious energy levels.
Pale Honey isn’t all in-your-face guitar fuzz, though. “Desert” is a vulnerable, summery digression that showcases the band’s softer side, and offers a nice counterbalance to what is otherwise a pretty emphatic album. Similarly, “Sleep” closes things out on what might be the record’s only genuinely somber note. There’s a lot going on here, and the duo makes a point of exploring a truly diverse array of sounds.
While we’ll probably have to resign ourselves to simply calling Pale Honey an indie rock band, it’s clear after a first listen that they deserve something a little less banal. Their brand of complex minimalism (paradoxical, I know) is refreshingly original, and allows them to draw on their influences without becoming overly referential. Pale Honey is an arresting debut—one that you absolutely should not miss.