Ahead of the release of ‘Devotion’, Gothenburg duo Pale Honey addressed a common issue for bands tackling the difficult second album; they wanted, they said, to make the record a “curated experience” and be “extremely picky” with the songs that ended up on it, in stark contrast to their self-titled debut, which included tracks that dated back to their teenage years. In actual fact, it doesn’t really feel like a particularly broad step forwards in either sonic or thematic terms; anybody familiar with ‘Pale Honey’ will be able to pick out a lot of the same sonic touchpoints here - the cold command of PJ Harvey in Tuva Lodmark’s vocals, guitars that flit between the rough squall of Sonic Youth and the icy composure of The xx, and a minimalist flavour pervading the whole affair.
Accordingly, ‘Devotion’’s strengths and weaknesses are much the same as last time out. There’s a tendency to sweep too quickly from rolling drama one minute to quiet reflection the next, all within the same song, and it conspires to make the record a disorienting and occasionally awkward listen. The same existential angst pervades Tuva’s lyrics as last time out, and they work best when she plays up to them, as she does on the intense ‘Get These Things Out of My Head’, rather than when she approaches them more subtly - ‘The Heaviest of Storms’ doesn’t hit as hard as it should. As was the case on ‘Pale Honey’, there’s a fraught tension running through Devotion and it’s effective in creating genuine atmosphere - it’s just that there’s also the sense that Pale Honey are treading water on an album where they had the platform to make a bigger statement.