Released exactly two years ago, HUNNY’s debut EP ‘Pain / Ache / Loving’ epitomized not only the Los Angeles band’s potential at its unmatched peak, but also the concept of clever, intelligible synthpop and indie rock.
Music doesn’t always make sense after one listen. It can take two, four, a half-dozen replays to grasp a single song’s purpose, and other times, months or years pass before the message of a record is realized. Occasionally we welcome these confusing manifestations that require hours of deciphering. Hunting online for lyric meanings and wondering why an artist used a certain noise can be stimulating for a listener, especially when the puzzle pieces finally stick together to form a resonant motif.
But sometimes, we don’t want to try; sometimes we want to feel and simply get good music on the spot. Maybe it’s laziness and impatience, or just the need to dance without having to figure some riddle out beforehand – regardless of when or why this quick-to-click-with music is most appreciated, it’s inarguably a necessary art that’s not always available. Easy music isn’t hard to find, but smart, easy music is. And today uncoincidentally marks the two-year anniversary of HUNNY’s debut EP, Pain / Ache / Loving (10/9/2015 via B3SCI Records) a five-song project that epitomized not only the Los Angeles band’s potential at its unmatched peak, but also the concept of clever, intelligible synthpop and indie rock.
Let’s be honest – nearly all music aficionados have that epiphanic moment in which they realize their favorite artist or act has already released their best work. For instance, Interpol fans know that they’ve been screwed since Our Love to Admire appeared as a follow-up to 2004’s Antics, and plenty of longtime Coldplayers gave up on Chris Martin and Co. circa 2011 (or even earlier) when Mylo Xyloto spun around in its sparking electropop mishmash. There’s nothing inherently wrong with bands seemingly doing their best in the early days. It’s just disheartening when they do – especially when those bands are young and blooming, like HUNNY, who’ve yet to hand over anything as creative or captivating as their 2015 debut.
Listen: ‘Pain / Ache / Loving’ – Hunny
Perhaps this disappointment resonates most with fans that focus on investing their listening time in groups that gift them reliably brilliant music, rather than one or two fluke releases. There’s inarguably a privilege glued to being supporter or critic – if something starts off extraordinarily for an act (re: Interpol, Coldplay, and HUNNY, of course), we pray that the next thing is equally satisfying, if not infinitely better than its predecessor. Admittedly, we disregard musicians’ conscious decisions to pursue new, risky visions – ideas that may sound underdeveloped or too ambitious – because we’re tangled up in our own comforts or preferences. In this sense, judgment manifestly correlates with selfishness.
But the conviction that Pain / Ache / Loving is HUNNY’s best work is hardly selfish nor hasty; instead, it challenges validity of the band’s creative growth, a process that has visibly halted since late last year, when its non-album single “Colder Parts” dropped at summer’s end. The glossy track succeeded “Vowels (And the Importance of Being Me)” – one of the Valley boys’, most commercially successful and anthemic tracks to date – and both independently released singles were fundamentally HUNNY.
On these singles, each members’ work glistened: Jason Yarger’s voice irresistibly echoed a modern Robert Smith; the electrifying guitars of Jake Munk and Jake Goldstein revived a post-punk sensibility; Kevin Grimmett’s stylish synths were new wave-indebted; Greg Horne (bass) and Joey Anderson (drums) held everything together swimmingly and sharply. The alternative outfit of early-to-mid 20-somethings had perfected their own kind of guitar music, an artistic flair distinctly fixed in the space between synthpop and punk rock – a genre they call “sadwave.” And although “Vowels” and “Colder Parts” weren’t marketed as Pain / Ache / Loving’s finest leftovers, they were just as applaudable as the EP’s five tracks.
The 2016 singles’ releases also marked the final days of a cherished era, one that was defined by HUNNY’s energetic, yet depressive lyricism and 1980s essence; these two qualities glittered in cohesion on each of the debut project’s succinct and charming tracks. Opener and lead single “Cry for Me” carries the same sing-along quality later characterized in “Vowels,” and with the rowdiest mindset, it’s certainly mosh-able – as Yarger launches into the cut’s final lines of “I can see you off, I can make you cry for me,” there’s something in his throat, an earnest angst that reappears throughout the record’s later, heartbroken tracks, like “Natalie” and “July,” which are both driven by the bright riffs and hooks of Munk and Goldstein.
However, Yarger’s angst is no surprise – the words pain, ache, loving pose as the EP’s title for a reason, and those three, titular nouns gorgeously moonlight as each song’s underlying feeling. In “La Belle Femme” HUNNY’s listeners are given a familiar story: its clumsy narrator chases after “the beautiful woman” (What I would do if I was with you/ In the other room /Dreaming of you, is all I can do), insisting that he’d boldly pursue her if she weren’t involved with someone else. This track is a glum, synthpop love song at its best, and right after Yarger’s strongest imagery – “You’re a work of art, I wanna swim in your colors again” – grace’s the audience’s ears in the pre-chorus, Horne’s shimmering bassline perfectly throbs in sync with Grimmett’s whirling synths.
There’s also hidden significance in that particularly vivid verse; while Yarger longs to connect with a special someone, him and his bandmates are painting a typically illustrative and layered landscape. Indeed, it’s an image and sound of hard-hitting grief, but it’s grief you can mosh, dance or playfully riot to in the privacy of your own bedroom – Pain / Ache / Loving is memory-making music. And as HUNNY’s older sound serves to score a listener’s rambunctious, unforgettable moments, they remind their listeners of why their newest music – the gentle contents of Windows I – feels incomplete and not-at-all riotous.
The band’s second collection of songs feels weird to listen to because it’s clean and quiet; tracks like “Shy” and “Televised” are smooth, but reflective of watered-down pop rock, not post-punk inspired indie pop, while “Guiding the Lily” and “Hallways” seem to fail at sonically reaching for the spunk of “Natalie” or “La Belle Femme,” instead deflating into the sounds of other budding indie groups. Perhaps the band’s change in sound can be credited to its altered line-up as of last December – guitarist and producer Jake Munk left HUNNY then, playing his last show at The Echoplex in Los Angeles. HUNNY’s last promising single “Colder Parts” had been released five months before, and, as with the rest of its 2015 and 2016 discography, was produced by Munk (Pain / Ache / Loving was co-produced with Eric Palmquist). Of course, it’s pure speculation that his amicable resignation is the reason for HUNNY’s negatively reinvented sound – regardless of the reasons behind the act’s creative block, here’s to hoping that the five-piece revert to its ingenious origins.
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