The release of In Plain Sight launches line-up changes, fresh sounds, and a new label for the Glasgow native
Three albums in, Honeyblood is now fully honed to the bone-sharp solo vision of its founding heroine, Stina Tweeddale. Latest album In Plain Sight is the child of a new label, Marathon Artists, a new freedom and fresh collaborations. It's a strange child, born of Tweeddale's native Glasgow and Los Angeles, where the album was recorded during Hallowe'en season, with producer John Congleton (Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, St Vincent). In Plain Sight bears the stark realities of the former city alongside the cinematic vision of the latter; its penchant for a transformation narrative or Hollywood hyperbole ('A Kiss From The Devil') gains warmth from a Scottish vernacular: 'Gibberish' being a favourite word for nonsense, 'Glimmer' a Scots word meaning to look unsteadily.
The recording process was littered with fortunate coincidences, including the availability of Peruvian artist Cecilia Paredes, who designed the album's striking cover. Depicting Tweeddale seen nude from behind, half-disappeared into ornate, William Morris-esque fabric, the cover speaks to themes of trickery and optical illusion found across the record. A sufferer of night terrors and sleep paralysis, Tweeddale often finds herself in the hall of nocturnal mirrors, and tracks like 'She's a Nightmare' refuse to sugarcoat the bare truths of such experiences.
For all its dealings in concealment, songwriting for Tweeddale is an act of empowerment; as she admits on 'Tarantella'; 'music is to survive somehow'. 'Tarantella' is Tweeddale's 'favourite song on the record', one that seemed to come from nowhere. 'It's about someone being on their deathbed', she says, and the act of empathy required to imagine that while 'releasing all your true feelings, all your deepest darkest terrible secrets'. Along with 'piano anti-ballad' 'Harmless', it's one of the darkest moments on the album, written from a 'bleak time where it felt like the end'. This is the first Honeyblood album recorded by Tweeddale alone (parting ways with drummer Cat Myers), and its creative defiance is set within mature recognitions of vulnerability.
Untethered from Honeyblood's original guitar/drums setup, In Plain Sight experiments with different styles: combining dirge with broody synthwork ('Touch'), looser nineties grooves ('Twisting the Aces') and the irresistible, straight-up noise rock which made the band's fame.
Lead single 'The Third Degree' channels that riot grrrl mantle with a lush assurance that smoulders. Filmed in collaboration with Edinburgh-based director Rianne White (Young Fathers, The Proclaimers) its video reworks the punk-rock 'ode-to-the-ex'. 'The Third Degree' dramatises a choreography of refusal, looking for clarity in a world of surfaces and deceit; Tweeddale donning a 'Gatsby-esque silver velvet suit' and glimmering into mirrors in nightclub bathrooms, her gaze owning the camera. For all the video's edge, detail and sheen, this is a song about friendship as much as breakups and lies: it was written for Tweeddale's 'best friend', who also stars in the video. Calling someone out for bad behaviour, she suggests, is also the opportunity to celebrate the 'twang in the heart' that is learning to redirect your love to others, to yourself.
In Plain Sight bears that healing power of reflection, making space for the future amidst dramatic upheaval. Tweeddale explains the challenge of living alone in L.A. for six weeks during the recording process. 'I went to a tarot reader', she says, an event whose revelations 'creep up on you'. Like tarot, songwriting for Tweeddale is a kind of intuition, a place for personal expression but also discovery. 'Sometimes years after I've written a song, I'm like, "oh wait, that's what I meant!" At the time I think, this has no relation to my personal life, but then it becomes obvious later on'. A self-confessed 'impulsive' writer, Tweeddale suggests the lyrics are 'part of [her] subconscious', a way of figuring out what she was trying to tell herself in the moment.
For all the darkness, In Plain Sight handles its goth credentials with a baroque playfulness and sonic ornamentation which lets Honeyblood's stories breathe. Tender closer 'Harmless' uses the confessional ballad to uncloak her own lavish self-delusion and learn 'to howl at the moon' again. 'Touch' explores 'being stuck in an affair, where there's no way that it's going to end well'; Tweeddale dances the fragile line between intimacy and pain. Writing in a 'bareboned and honest way', the album's comfort, perhaps, is its expression of self-acceptance. Although she promised herself not to 'make another witchy-themed album', images of hexes, spells and poisons abound here. While witchcraft is currently enjoying a cultural turn, it's always been part of Honeyblood's repertoire of female empowerment: a punk gesture towards secret knowledges, solidarity and modes of self-recognition.
In Plain Sight captures Tweeddale's knack for putting a twist on reality and staring yourself in the face while doing it; it argues that fact and fiction exist on a strange continuum and illusion is often the way we live, still looking to be 'disgustingly happy'.
Out now on Marathon Artists.