Photo: Monique Crabb / Courtesy of Thrill Jockey Records

Peals Create Soundscapes Both Ambient and Edgy on ‘Honey’

Peals' Honey, originally released in 2016, has found a new home on a different label, and an opportunity for reexamination.

Thrill Jockey
2 October 2020

Peals are a band that somewhat confounds expectations while producing results that are equal parts surprising and soothing. The duo, consisting of bassists William Cashion (of Future Islands) and Bruce Willen (of Double Dagger), have crafted a sound that only tangentially approaches the feel of their respective bands, but shouldn’t turn off any established fans. While Future Islands employ a crooning, 1980s indie synthpop sound and Double Dagger embrace a rawer post-punk feel, Peals are something of a busman’s holiday of ambient soundscapes that borrow from the former band’s melodicism and the latter’s edgier sound.

Honey was originally released in 2016 on the now-defunct Friends Records, following their 2013 debut album Walking Field and the 2015 cassette-only release Seltzer. The ever-eclectic Thrill Jockey label has reissued Honey, and it’s a great opportunity to reassess this album, bringing it a slightly higher level of exposure. The fact that Future Islands have a new album coming out later this month also makes an interesting, if unintentional, bit of cross-promotion.

Opening with the rhythmic, deeply melodic “Become Younger”, Cashion and Willen embrace classic krautrock as the hypnotic track recalls the classic, timeless sound of bands like Neu. But other songs on Honey are quieter, more meditative, and not always tied down to consistent tempo. “Wind Honey” is more of a calm soundscape that slowly builds in intensity before coming out the other end with a soothing cascade of chimes or toy piano notes. Like several of the album’s other songs, “Essential Attitudes” combines krautrock beats and quasi-ambient vibe as a drum machine is dropped into the track, followed by some spacey, understated surf guitar. Honey wants to be several things, and fortunately, they’re all done quite well.

While Cashion and Willen work largely alone here, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins joins them on “Punk Migration”, a track that doesn’t stray far from the album’s overall sound but provides some clever diversions. Clean guitar lines mesh with distant bits of what sounds like pedal steel and the scratchy fuzz of distortion. On paper, it sounds like an unholy mess, but it all comes together beautifully, creating a very muted sense of chaos. Other highlights include the dreamy, ethereal “Pink Cloud”, the gently propulsive “Trillium”, and the buzzing, lo-fi album closer, “New Year’s Whale”. The latter adds unconventional elements such as banjos of a spooling projector’s sound sector before descending into the foreboding sounds of distant explosions.

Equally playful, mysterious, and oddly catchy, Honey sees Cashion and Willem briefly abandoning the sounds of the bands that made them famous and embracing a new sound – one that’s full of thrilling and inspiring soundscapes.

RATING 7 / 10