Boomkat Product Review:
Honour's debut album proper for PAN is a darkly comic tour de force that's as eccentric and high-minded as a Mica Levi score and as hard-hitting as a Diplomats tape. Fractal jazz, sandblasted rap, brittle concrète soundscapes and ghosted, melancholy ambience - all of it vaporised into a charged sermon filled with hidden messages and spiritual weight. The most essential PAN in a minute? Aye.
Packed with wide-reaching references - from Kelly Rowland and Richard Pryor to bell hooks and DMX - the album is semi-autobiographical docufiction, muddying home truths with fantastical, fairytale touches and the kind of gooey sonic surrealism you'd expect to hear on a Klein album. If you caught the phenomenal 'HBK' volumes from earlier this year, you'll be well prepared for this one, but where those extended mixtapes served as a kind of sketchpad for Honour's offbeat experimentations, 'Àlàáfíà' is sculpted from finer material. Like Space Afrika's epochal 'Honest Labour', it's a hazed-out dream diary, tracing and examining the process of grief. The album is dedicated to Honour's late grandmother, and 'Àlàáfíà' is their way of understanding that loss, analysing place, faith and love with a dense patchwork of vocal snippets, tape-saturated instrumentation and pulverised beats.
Honour pushes 'Ring a Ring o' Roses' into the red on 'First Born (Redeemed)', and a gunshot interrupts the flow to herald a chipmunked vocal and factory-strength drums - it's this interplay between guileless nostalgia and the perceived loss of innocence that roots the album and its themes. The gospel music Honour grew up hearing is always somewhere in the background, fleshed out with molasses-slow, atomised rhythmic pulses and reminders of decaying Hollywood film scores and flickering TV themes. When Honour makes more tangible references to rap - like on the booming 'dubbleUpptown (La Rocque)' - it sounds like a mixtape that's been duped a hundred times, dipping enigmatically as the beats clip into ear-splitting distortion. On 'W-I-S (Above Every Other)', loops tumble over each other cosmically, sounding like WIlliam Basinski while simultaneously referencing Sydney Lumet's cult musical 'The Wiz' and The 120 Lessons.
Honour breaks their silence on the blues-y 'Pistol Poem (Lead Belly)' rapping over horn snips and damaged chorals. "He went thru hell and back / came back / to get the strap," a gravelly voice mutters. It's barely even started before Richard Pryor's familiar articulation switches things up, and Seven Trumpets'futzes with a fanfare until it's irreparably damaged by screaming feedback. This sets the stage for the record's triumphant final run: the majestic, courtly 'Giz'aard ($uckets)', bonkers neo-concrète experiment 'FLIR2A' and the album's jittery lead single 'U&Me (decemberseventeen)'. But the best is saved for last. On the lengthy title track, Honour leads us out with feathery pads and fuzzy static that slowly dissolves into a hazy, dissonant drone.
From beginning to end, Honour drags us through a painstaking assemblage of lavishly illustrated notes and red herrings, a way to observe grief with levity as well as irreverent humour. It's a celebration of life, of faith and of love in all its forms that's been a fixture in our listening pile since it arrived earlier this year. Needless to say, if yr into Dean Blunt/Babyfather, John T. Gast, Robert Turman, Laurel Halo or even Omarion, you're gonna need this one.