For the Hoffman brothers (Mason and Spencer), it was nigh about time to pull up stakes and head north to Portland. Spencer, the younger of the two, had already started school there; their band, Honyock—rounded out by bassist Tyler Wolter and drummer Christian “Sunshine” Meinke—was pumping along into their eighth year. It had been almost three years since the group’s last release, a demo EP of compellingly sinuous “peyote-tonk” numbers that were nevertheless waiting for some kind of catalyst—the sort of fire that might bring forth the ashes to polish their sound to a silvery patina.
What happened next was a mini-miracle in indie rock serendipity. From the time they were upstart novices listening along in their room to Dr. Dog and other artists on Park the Van Records, the brothers had nurtured a dream of wedding their own work to a similar roster. Now, their demos had fallen into the hands of former Park the Van label heads Chris and Sabrina Watson, who had set down roots in Sacramento a few years back with a new label, Friendship Fever. Before long, Honyock was headed down to Elliott Smith’s former L.A. studio to record with songwriter/producer/frequent Father John Misty collaborator David Vandervelde.
The result of a dream made manifest, El Castillo (out July 20) serves as the band’s debut LP, part stylistic rebirth and part distillation of every quirk and feature that has made Honyock distinctly appealing since they first appeared. Nimble songwriting with a playful pop sensibility is allowed to breathe in the loose-feeling structures of ballads and power-pop suites, imbued with the fractured grandeur of ‘70s guitar rock and glazed with the clean shimmer of ‘60s optimism, though it’s not without a minor touch of wistfulness to make the melodies bittersweet. Lead single “Patron” is the purest example of this, depicting the foolish hopes of trying to break through a loved one’s addiction to save them, the frustration when it fails and the lingering pocket of happiness in thinking that, in some universe out there, it could work beautifully. Honyock regularly dips into serious territory while avoiding the theatrical pitfalls that can derail truly thoughtful handling of the subjects covered. They’re a group that can use artifice without becoming a background to it.
Finally, there’s the name itself. It’s a word to chew on, suggestive of dust-choked horizons under a limitless dome of blue sky, of times, places and ways of living written down in books that have long been shut. Honyock came to Mason and Spencer from their grandfather. It’s an archaic Americanism that has generally passed into the oblivion of the rural past, with several ambiguous meanings. For the brothers, it meant something along the lines of “mischievous” or “up to no good.” An older definition translates to “honey hunter,” someone searching for golden opportunity—in the usual case, stubbornly tilling land too barren to farm—and getting “stung” in the process.
Far from tilling barren ground, Honyock have claimed an out-of-the way territory to cultivate their own unique musical sensibility, laboring for friendship, brotherhood, honesty and the sheer joy of the process, far from any fame or treasure-seeking notions. If their profile is rising now, it’s at the best possible time. The unfamiliar listener has much to discover in their work, now enriched by time, the evolution of their artistry and the strength of their bond.