Originally published in The Edge
“Okay, it’s 3:17am… If you don’t got a lover, just close your eyes and listen to HONNE.” This instruction, courtesy of a sultry croak from a radio host at the opening of HONNE’s debut album, could not be any more apt. At this point of the evening, timed to experience the album in the sort of woozy, tender emotional state it appears to command, keeping my eyes open is enough of a chore, and the smooth organ-like instrumentation of title track ‘Warm On A Cold Night’ forms such a feathery pillow that is close to being a lullaby. “I want to take you to paradise / In a 1950s Merc,” sings Andy Clutterbuck, HONNE’s bearded half. Expecting anything other than syrupy romantic adventures from Warm On A Cold Night would have been foolish. Enamoured with the tender embrace, I go wherever he asks me.
University friends who began to write music together in breaks from their jobs as instrumental teachers, vocalist Clutterbuck and instrumentalist James Hatcher took the name for their duo from a Japanese word meaning ‘real intention,’ and their cosy approach of adorning luscious electronic instrumentals with hopeful mumbles on love and prosperity is well displayed throughout Warm On A Cold Night, though the seduction of the titular opener does fade away. Even though many of its tracks have been scattered previously throughout a spread of acclaimed EPs – though picks from Over Lover and Gone Are The Days: Shimokita Import, the most recent pair, are bizarrely reserved for the 16-track deluxe edition – Warm On A Cold Night’s journey through love triangles, mornings after with regret and reflection, and triumphant dedication seems to form at least a cohesive narrative.
To an extent, once you’ve heard one song on Warm On A Cold Night you’ve heard them all. Each track is defined by Clutterbuck’s reverberating drawl which, whilst soothing and concise, does not possess a great melodic range. Beneath, Hatcher layers gentle synthetic lines with occasional hints of jazzy basslines (‘Out Of My Control,’ ‘One At A Time Please’) before emphatic chorus sections are kicked truly into gear with a revolving cast of vocal harmonies, gospel choirs, regal organs, and Clutterbuck soaring to odd points of discomfort. As a 51-minute metered antidote to the darkness beyond, it works wonders.
Two particular tracks that snap the monotony somewhat happen to be the two to use the word ‘love’ in the title. ‘Coastal Love’ springs from the gorgeously yielding 30-second slumber that concludes ‘Out Of My Control’ with waves of Americana and a lively percussive accompaniment. Whereas its chorus feels slightly underprepared – and, given that the first of 177,000,000 Google search results for the phrase “New York City coast” is ‘Coastal Love’ itself on YouTube, lacking in vista – the same cannot be said for ‘Someone That Loves You,’ a collaboration with fellow soulful British newcomer Izzy Bizu that recently completed a stint on BBC Radio 1’s playlist. Telling a tale of Clutterbuck bravely combating feelings for Bizu whilst in another relationship, its sweet duet does more to tarnish the veneer of overwhelming loveliness that Warm On A Cold Night nourishes than the solitary expletive on ‘It Ain’t Wrong Loving You’ ever could. Yet, the absence of the two-sided narrative and superb dynamic between the two vocalists becomes quite profound in what follows on the record, especially given the existence and total absence of JONES-featuring ‘No Place Like Home.’
The prosperous final leg is that which could indeed propel HONNE’s brand of modern soul – to use one of Clutterbuck’s favourite words (see exhibits ‘Treat You Right,’ ‘The Night,’ and Valentine’s Day free download non-album track ‘Woman’) – far. If album standout ‘The Night,’ with its splendidly affable sales pitch – “Spend the night and I will make it worth your while / Let’s build a life we can both live out in style,” “Oh, invest time in me / Cause I am risk free / We can make this work / That’s my guarantee” – assembled all the pieces, ‘Good Together’ leaps joyously into the sunlight with a triumphant spark of young, requited love; ‘One At A Time Please’ sits down for a pricy café brunch with lounging jazz to clear the air; and ‘FHKD’ reaches a muffled peak as the credits roll in search of commitment. Perhaps it is a rushed ending to a record best served as one slinking, repetitive platter, but its rhetorical, soulful cries being left lingering into the void serves as a suitably pensive cliffhanger.
Out now via Tatemae Recordings and Atlantic