Fun fact: it was a midnight viewing of Lost In Translation that first inspired Andy Clutterbuck and James Hatcher - two friends from university - to make music together. Picking out the name HONNE for themselves (Japanese for ‘innermost feelings’, as a rough translation), the two set about making their own special brand of groovy late-night electronica and the rest, as they say, is history.
Clutterbuck may sound like he’s popped straight out of a Beatrix Potter story, but don’t let that fairytale surname deter you. His husky vocal tone is immediately standout — a bit James Blake-esque, except amongst a funkier, more upbeat sonic backdrop. In fact, that’s exactly what Warm On A Cold Night sounds like as an album; it’s what you’d get if James Blake and Jungle did some kind of mega 18-track collaboration project.
Warm On A Cold Night may be HONNE’s first album, but they’ve been enticing us for a little while already. They’ve been releasing a steady stream of EPs since way back when in 2014 (remember those days when we were blissfully unaware of the Brexit apocalypse that was coming for us? Ah, memories). The problem facing HONNE is that the songs from their previous EPs are actually really very good; in a situation like that, you unwittingly fall into a position of having to better yourself to prove you haven’t already done your best work. It would be tragic, really, to peak before you’ve even released your first album.
All In The Value, for example, off the All In The Value EP, is one of the best songs I’ve come across this year. Clutterbuck’s vocals are incredibly soulful - you can feel his emotion as he yearns for the object of his affections to reciprocate feelings - and they’re perfectly offset by its infectious R&B groove. This song is a fantastic blend of electronica, soul, and late-night R&B (you should be listening to this album late at night, by the way. It just works better) and it has a cracking guitar solo too, so there’s really something here for everyone. If you get anything out of this review, give the song a listen. It’s brilliant.
Someone Who Loves You - a mellower collaboration track with Izzy Bizu - is very strong too. The same goes for title track Warm On A Cold Night, with its spangly guitar rhythms and lyrics that proclaim they want to keep you, guess what, warm on a cold (cold) night. So how does the new material compare? Both Good Together and It Ain’t Wrong Loving You feature gospel choirs as backing vocals to add to that feel-good factor; Treat You Right backdrops high-searing, hazy synths against fast-paced percussion; Coastal Love bursts open with a pulsing beat that could have come straight off a Jungle track. Inventive, yes. As good as the tracks the previous EPs have given us? Probably not, but they’re not bad tracks. They’re the kind of songs that seem like filler tracks but they grow on you more and more with each listen, and shouldn’t be underestimated; Davids to All In The Value and Someone Who Loves You’s Goliath, if you will.
The problem, I suppose, is that as nice and romantic the songs are individually, it gets a little same-old when you’re exposed to 18 tracks about heartsickness one after the other. Three tracks from this album specifically mention love in the title, and next to all of them feature some kind of romantic address to the listener - whether it’s reminiscing about their old relationship, considering it in present tense, or willing something to happen in future. One At A Time Please is a welcome change of pace, as Clutterbuck ditches romance in favour of weighing up fame and stardom’s many implications. It’s the most thought-provoking song on the album, exploring Clutterbuck’s distaste with the obsessive hero-worshipping of celebrity culture, and hopefully an indication of more varied lyrical themes on album number two.
But hey, when the album is at this level of quality - particularly for a debut - it feels a bit beside the point to focus on the negatives. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of strong points in Warm On A Cold Night; when the songs are good, they’re really good. Besides, the absolutely stellar production on each track as good as redeems the somewhat unvaried lyrical topics; every song on Warm On A Cold Night is phenomenally slick, complete with rippling synths and jazzy percussion. Warm On A Cold Night sets out HONNE as an artist to pay attention to, something people have already started doing. I caught HONNE at their Latitude set this year and they drew a huge crowd for a band that had, at the time, only released a couple of EPs.
If you’re at that point in your summer when you ran out of things to do a few weeks ago, have a listen to the track picks below. HONNE are a band to keep your eye on and to have such a strong back-catalogue of songs this early on in the game puts them in very good standing.