Katy B Honey

[Rinse/EMI; 2016]

Styles: tribute, jazz standards, compilation, synchrony, “bass”
Others: Kaytranada, Major Lazer, Four Tet, Wilkinson, MssingNo

“Honey” the song sounds like its texture: smothered in the sterile ooze of lounge, except what’s lounging is a molasses of British club sub-eras and subgenres, what’s lounging is Major Lazer and Four Tet and Kaytranada and Craig David. The honey in the room, the universal substance, is Katy B’s voice itself, which frames itself as the platonic ideal of the no-name “featured” vocalist from all those rave tunes with a kink for R&B, the “featuring” that constitutes less a main attraction and more an instrumental texture. The voice of the rave that talks about the rave. This Is Our House.

But Katy B, with a name like someone introducing herself at an anonymous 12-step meeting, could be anyone — anyone. Katy B has been unapologetically trading in cliché and platitude since before the Hannah Diamonds of the world did it winkingly, and if Honey’s project — bridging a trans-European cocktail of rave-oriented production styles atop the utterly neutral, unvalenced narration of the album’s “star” — seems remarkably similar to recent realignments within dance music’s avant-garde, it’s because, well, yeah, it is. Flattening the topography of the historicized real can indeed be a stepping stone to liberating regional, temporal-specific styles from hackneyed context, but on Honey, “local” comes ready-interpellated into a sleek acultural hybrid.

“So Far Away,” which includes a production credit from Wilkinson, takes on a Hospital Records-reminiscent drum & bass vibe, an influence already epochs removed from the incision of the genre’s formal incarnation. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with over-the-top, maximalist drum & bass, here it just ends up sounding like your least favorite song from the SSX Tricky OST. The same can be said for “Lose Your Head,” which enlists Skepta-affiliate D Double E and J Hus to fortify a milquetoast stab at grime bravado.

Each new track bridges a stylistic deviation across the protean spectrum of “bass music,” but rather than highlighting the uncanny valleys between styles or simply eschewing the idea of genre altogether, Honey adopts an unabashedly pandering, “tribute” air reminiscent of the jazz standards compilations aging rock & roll singers release when they’ve exhausted their stores of radical self-reinvention. Katy B’s stultifying lyrics, paired with an EMI-sponsored coterie of established DJs, producers, and vocalists, surgically selected as if delegates of their respective niches, evince only the sound of the culture industry at work.

It’s spectacular in the Debordian sense — that is, it participates in a parade of representing what formulations of club music can mean about being alive — but it doesn’t immerse the listener in clubbing itself, nor does it talk about clubbing, except in a stilted, hackneyed language, to the point that I experience a Katy B album less as a contemporary art object and more as an artifact of what today’s atmosphere has already disincluded. As a “love letter to rave,” Honey figures rave as a thing that “has happened,” which of course it has, but only if we buy into its finitude. The next tusovka lies perpetually in the assumed shape of cliché.

Links: Katy B - Rinse/EMI

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