Published Mar 04, 2020In times of uncertainty, there's immense power in fantasy — in escaping to some dusky netherworld coloured by a softer kind of light, a place where love is tangible and everything else dissolves between your fingers. Honey Harper's debut, the awestruck Starmaker, is exactly such a place — a retreat to a foreign frontier.
The wash of vocoder that opens the album will evoke another stargazing country record of late — Kacey Musgraves' behemoth Golden Hour. However, despite its title, Starmaker doesn't share the same crossover ambitions. Instead, it takes the ribbons of flower-child psychedelia that coloured Golden Hour and weaves them into something more akin to the cosmic folk and country of the '60s and '70s. Where Musgraves gazed at the cosmos with her feet planted firmly on the ground, Harper seems to sing from within some grand, unknown constellation.
His glossed lips and soft-focus photography are also, whether intentionally or not, tapping into the aesthetics of the queer country revival. But where gay country artists like Orville Peck, Lavender Country and the underrated Sam Buck disrupt the form by singing explicitly about gay sex, love and isolation, Harper's insurrection is quieter — though his songs are ostensibly about women, their wide-eyed tenderness still plays against traditional notions of country-music masculinity.
Love is transformative on Starmaker, as large as the sky or as minute as a single seed. On the flute-assisted "Vaguely Satisfied," Harper wallows in this curious transformational power, singing "I was like the cup of rain / That came to cover up the spring / And you were almost everything / And I was vaguely satisfied."
The record's core is acoustic guitar, pedal steel and diaphanous synth, accented by woodwinds, strings and electronic flourishes. And though the middle section drags slightly, it's music that beckons those already on its wavelength — contemplative sounds for a contemplative mood. The orchestral hallucination "Suzuki Dreams" is the greatest sonic outlier, though it still entwines effortlessly into the surrounding songs. The effect is difficult to deny — Starmaker is a world unbound by time and gravity, a fantasy borne of solar winds. If this is where country music is headed, we should all be so lucky to be invited along for the journey. (ATO Records)