Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Contribution to the Underhill Effect

I can't believe no one talks about Honeybunch anymore! Even their website is gone. And there are no pictures on the whole of the web, except from the blurred ones on Bus Stop's site. So I had to take one myself... and say something about them myself. Honeybunch was started by Jeffrey Borchardt (aka Underhill) before he became one third of The Velvet Crush - who never reached the same heights, I think. Claudia Gonson, later of The Magnetic Fields, played drums for them live.

Underhill's music seems to lack reference points completely, at least it must have done in 1989 when it was first released. Of course there are similarities to The Choo Choo Train (as the other two future members of Velvet Crush called themselves at the time), but the songs seem to tie into an even more timeless American tradition - going past Big Star to The Band even. And their unique sensibilities weren't matched again until groups like The Fairways (and later Pants Yell!) arrived. It would seem to me Brent Kenji owes a great deal to Honeybunch, both in his songwriting and his vocal style. Both bands have the same pristine sound and play with effortless skill, and they are both among my favourite groups ever.

However, where The Fairways have a much softer sound anchored in 60s jangle and soft rock, Honeybunch have a more garagey twang and a sort of wooden, less studio-clean sound (maybe a tinge of country rock there?). The songs are almost instantly recogniseable and very varied in pacing, structure and feel. The first time I heard "Always Someone Else's Shadow" I could swear I'd heard it somewhere else before!

But wait a minute, you say, hasn't that Summershine retrospective been sold out for years? Well, Spanish label Elefant issued it in Europe the following year (1997) and that's been in stock ever since. In fact, it can be had for a shocking 2€ from Elefant at the time of writing. Time Trials includes everything the band had released (on vinyl) at that point plus unreleased treasures (thus not the 2003 comeback ep on Bus Stop, which is again still available). The reason I write 'on vinyl' is because it sadly doesn't include the flexis "Crooked Mile" (one of their best recordings) and "Nothing But Trouble" (I haven't got that, so if someone does please share it), nor "Humble Dream" from the Heol cassette compilation. I think I do have the latter - the mp3 is labelled "You're Killing Me", but that title is not in their discography plus it sounds old and like it's been recorded from a cassette. Not in the Bus Stop discography either, are two newer songs "All That's Left of Me Is You" (a reworking of "Always Someone Else's Shadow" from the Homemade Hits, V.1 2004 comp) and "Everything to Everyone" (which I don't know where it comes from).

That's enough of the details and time to prove my seemingly daring claims are justified. Listen to "Candy Breath" from their second single and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about!

The sparkle in your eyes
still takes me by surprise
If it's nothing as you insist
it's still more than you realise


martijn said...

Thanks for writing that. I think they are one of my favourite American indiepop bands ever. Well, somewhere in the top 10 at least. "Arm in arm" is my favourite track.

FireEscape said...

I've got that flexi, which I can upload at some point. Before Honeybunch, Jeffrey was in The White Sisters, who released two singles, Misery, Me & You (produced by Butch Vig!) in 85 and Big Girl/A Love Like Lead in 88. The second single was released on Picture Book, both sides are brilliant; the first single isn't so great. I can upload them if you're interested.

brogues said...

Y'know ... it's not Honeybunch's fault but I never play 'Time Trials' because I ordered it direct from Summershine US years ago and paid full price only to be sent a 'cut-out' i.e. it had a hole punched out of the tray card. Being a bit of a twonk it really annoyed me so I 'filed' the cd. Thanks to your review, though, I will dig it out and, maybe, Honeybunch will steal my heart :)

Mike said...

I've got that flexi with "Nothing But Trouble" too - let me know if you still need a rip of it. There was a White Sisters track on an early K comp (Let's Kiss maybe?), that was how I discovered Jeffrey's amazing music and wound up releasing HoneyBunch records.

Mike said...

"Nothing But Trouble" now posted here: