The couple that plays together, stays together. Ben and Vesper Stamper, a husband-and-wife duo with an affinity for offbeat folk music, get a little help from their friends on this sophomore album, which features cameos by Sufjan Stevens, two members of Holler, Wild Rose!, and other indie heavyweights. Yet despite the lengthy guest list, HONORS is basically a two-person affair. The orchestration is consistently sparse -- on “Sugar Song,” the Stampers keep their melodies afloat with little more than droning bass and upright piano -- and most of the music focuses on Ben + Vesper’s harmonies, which often sound like the brighter, quirkier equivalent of Mark Lanegan’s duets with Isobel Campbell. Ben even channels Lanegan’s deep, dark baritone on “Find Your Friend,” sliding into a vibrato-heavy register to enhance the song’s woozy effect, but saves most of its pizzazz for the happier numbers. “Knee-Hi Wall,” the best tune here, boasts a soft rock chorus straight from the ‘70s, while “Understruggle: Yay, Win” throws some banjo arpeggios into the mix, resulting in a leisurely folk song that both soothes and moves. The lyrics are odd throughout the album -- “All is Forgiven” seems to be about a childhood incident in which Ben’s dad taped a rerun of “The Fugitive” and accidentally used the wrong VHS cassette, erasing his son’s amateur movie in the process, while the title track makes oddball references to Bruce Willis and William Shatner -- but when they’re dressed up with swooning harmonies, they always seem to make enough sense.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey