Music Reviews
Showboat Honey

Kyle Craft Showboat Honey

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

While listening to Kyle Craft's latest LP, Showboat Honey, I struggled to stay focused on the music. Daydreams would set in, and songs seemed to fade into one another. That's a surprising effect for an album that on the surface has broad dynamics and rocking tunes, with songs that fluctuate between rambunctious and dreamy. Regardless, the album's tracks blurred together and I'd zone out. That is, until I arrived at the last song on the album, when I'd think “ah, that's more like it.” I'd then realize the album had ended a song ago, and Spotify was playing a random track so that the music wouldn't stop.

I couldn't figure out why the album wouldn't take hold, so, as is my wont, I began by analyzing Craft's lyricism. For someone who cites Dylan as a poetic influence, he needs to spend additional time studying the masters. His lyrics aren't bottom of the barrel, but they're forgettable, likely because of their tendency toward obtuse abstractions. It occurred to me that the lyrics on Showboat Honey may well have been generated by a computer algorithm that ingested rock data (actually a thing) and spit something out. As an example of what I'm writing about, here's a random sampling of Craft's lyrics (or is it?):

"I don't mind the changing of the season, or a tear in time, typhoon plume. Tidal wave take everyone. Rain that blood. Streets of gold. Hell in a handbasket's okay too."

Did I even punctuate that correctly? Because the lyrics don't convey much in the way of the concrete, they slip away like water from a duck's back. Granted, that's 99% of all rock lyrics. The greater problem here is that Craft's voice doesn't do the work of guiding the lyrical abstractions into the realm of emotional resonance. Instead, his voice resists communicating human feelings. Whereas on his earlier albums Craft's delivery felt raw and earnest, which conveyed something in the way of the personal (even if merely a wistful naivete), Craft has increasingly sharpened his vocal spectrum so that it's restricted to the space between a constrictive whine and a keening wail; imagine the sound a hawk makes, piercing and emotionless. As a result, little emotion is channeled besides what you might hear expressed by someone shouting into a hurricane. Ironically, one of the few songs I found to be memorable is called Buzzkill Caterwaul, a description of Craft's voice I'm unable to top.

Like a thousand albums from the 70s trying to approximate the orchestral glam-rock of Elton John, T. Rex, and The Rolling Stones, Showboat Honey is driven by a classic assemblage of chord slamming piano, Stratocaster riffage, a dash of orchestration, and workpersonlike drums. But the special sauce those three canonized bands had was, besides elite musicians, a singer with a shape-shifting voice capable of channeling a thousand different emotions. Unfortunately for Craft, he's climbed Mt. Olympus, only to reveal his naked mortality.

It's not that pulling the trick of mimicking your influences and making great music is impossible. For example, the band Girls was remarkably mimetic, drawing on a myriad of rock influences, and could even be accused of a lack of originality, but Christopher Owens brought a deeply emotional inflection to his lyrics, making the music personal instead of redundant.

Moving forward, Craft must hone his emotional message. His voice needs to expand, to soften, to be anything but the cry of a harpy claiming its victim. Craft's vocals feel like they were sent through a french fryer, cooked to a crisp. The result is, like the music that backs him, a voice that is merely functional, an approximation that falls well short of its influences. Craft's first album had swagger— hopefully, he gets it back.