Punish, Honey

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On his early EPs and debut album Order of Noise, Vessel's Seb Gainsborough showed he was willing to forsake the obvious path as he challenged stylistic conventions and expectations about where he'd go next. Even so, Punish, Honey finds him taking his skills in a very different direction. Order of Noise's reverb-draped recombinations of techno, house, and dub showed he could expand on his short-form works compellingly, but his caustic second album's studies in decay sound even more cohesive. Gainsborough pondered the question “What does ‘Englishness’ in music really mean?” and came up with an album full of aggressively stripped, industrial-tinged pieces that are equally brooding and kinetic. Punish, Honey takes the basic elements of Vessel's approach to extremes: the dense textures and quick shifts of Order of Noise are distorted and stylized into lurching, uneasy rhythms punctuated by the odd mournful melody. Gainsborough hinted at this direction on the Misery Is a Communicable Disease EP, but even that feels tame compared to "Red Sex," which may not be conventionally sexy but is extremely physical: bludgeoning beats are joined by rubbery synths that writhe around each other like the fragmented limbs and torsos of Punish, Honey's artwork. Everything seethes with nervous energy, leading to the (usually correct) suspicion that something even more tweaked and disturbing lies right around the corner: the pause in "Black Leaves and Fallen Branches"'s Xela-like mix of echoing shrieks and atonal chamber music is just as dread-filled as the actual sounds. However, Gainsborough offers a few respites. "Drowned in Water and Light" tempers its angry beats with chilly passages, creating an ambience akin to Order of Noise; likewise, "Anima" plays like the gentler shadow of "Red Sex." On tracks such as "Euoi," the similarities between Vessel and labelmate Haxan Cloak are especially clear, though where that project became more electronic, Gainsborough made Punish, Honey more organic by incorporating sheets of metal and handmade instruments. The album's abrasive live drums add immeasurably to its visceral impact, especially on "Febrile," where the bruising punctuation adds to the feeling that Gainsborough just pulled the album's ripcord, and on "Kin to Coal," where intense cymbal work suggests a chase scene before grinding riffs tear the track apart. Details like these refine Punish, Honey's bluntness and reaffirm just how well Gainsborough crafts the album's mood. It all makes for riveting listening for anyone willing to let Vessel punish -- and reward -- their ears.

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