ALBUM REVIEW: HUNNY – ‘New Planet Heaven’

Artwork for HUNNY’s ‘New Planet Heaven’

So apparently, to celebrate this new album, HUNNY have purchased their own star and named it after the album’s title. As far as promotional tools go, it’s certainly a unique way to go about things, even if it’s hard to imagine it drumming up much curiosity for the music itself. Operating on that cosmic scale feels right at the opposite end of the spectrum to where HUNNY would typically end up, where tiny-scale indie-pop and emo doesn’t share anything close to the same brand of expanse. Or maybe that’s reading way too far into it all and it’s just a quirky little stunt to jumpstart some clout—that seems more likely.

In any case, the intentions of New Planet Heaven as a body of work are what speak the loudest (though ‘loud’ might even be too heightened a descriptor in itself). In keeping for a band whose earlier connections came from Bad Suns and The Neighbourhood, HUNNY wear their bandolier of Gen Z appeal and online readiness at all times, and thus don’t make it all that difficult to predict the endpoints of their work. New Planet Heaven is the kind of emo-pop that’s ripe and ready to soundtrack all manner of snippets of zoomer ennui and oversharing on TikTok, and is proud to represent that. You can tell by how little it opts to shy away from that, for better and for worse.

Average it out, though, and…this is generally good. HUNNY know exactly how to maximise demographic appeal, a lot of which can boil down to a suite of catchy pop songs bathed in the correct aesthetic cues. Not so much that the songs themselves don’t hold their own though, which is an important step that can often be sidelined when the allure of virality gets in the way. That’s not so much the case here though; particularly in its first half, New Planet Heaven proves supremely efficient in its hooks when it wants to be. Standing out among that are sixteen stitches, big star and ring in ur ear, all of which pick up the robustness of indie-rock and emo in a way that’s straightforwardly strong. This isn’t an album that tends to rise into anthemia very often, but the integrity of the pop framework is undeniable at its best.

Similarly, HUNNY are very adept at choosing what styles benefit the type of band they are. They clearly know their limitations and the things that are feasible to achieve, which pulls up a lot of shuffling indie-rock and slacker-emo that generally suits a smaller, low-key space. Hell, in the latter, bringing onboard Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre for ring in ur ear is a borderline inspired choice, both as a means of legitimising HUNNY’s whole practice, and because he’s able to fit perfectly onto frontman Jake Yarger’s wavelength in a really beneficial way. This portion of New Planet Heaven also acts as the customary ‘nostalgic update’ for HUNNY, though in a way that’s actually done to artful standards. The modernisation of ‘90s slacker-pop on solo is one thing, but the subdued ‘80s gloss on big star’s percussion lilt and watery synths is another entirely, as is 89cc’s understated hum of guitar and synthesised strings that leads into a remarkably well-blended saxophone break. Moments like that can usually suck the air out of everything around them; HUNNY’s singular attempt, meanwhile, is entirely free of that.

But of course, with this being an indie / emo / alternative album in 2023 with an onus of the ‘genrelessness’ of it all, it was never going to stick. It’s easily the most frustrating things about releases like this—there will be good ideas stumbled upon that could easily sustain entire releases, but that just doesn’t happen. To be fair to HUNNY, New Planet Heaven is one of the less egregious examples, but it’s also not getting away with it either. bothering collates click-clacking percussion and deliberately shrunken, chintzy synth tones, and winds up presenting as the kind of unpalatably twee bedroom-pop that wore out its welcome a good few years ago now. The real momentum-killer, however, is my own age, in which the shoegaze textures display very little in the way or form or compelling ideas, even going so far as to isolate the synths to further bring out the homespun cheapness in more unflattering ways. They’re more clean-cut examples, but across New Planet Heaven, you’ll stumble across the odd tone or instrumental choice that springs out unceremoniously in how it just doesn’t belong, and how HUNNY seem to want to exacerbate that.

But the real problem comes when that’s viewed on its macro level, when the tightness and restrained nature begins to feel more like a crutch than a stylistic choice. Admittedly, that’s based on individual perception—it can change from listen to listen, and even song to song—but once it settles, there’s a realisation of how much HUNNY appear to be unnecessarily hindering themselves. They could rip more readily, and the biggest hooks and moments of release even suggest they might want to, but there’s a clear, immovable ceiling above any such aspirations, for no other purpose than to ‘preserve’ the miniscule scale. And that leads to New Planet Heaven’s less-than-ideal choices, like how Yarger’s vocals trend perilously close to TikTok-pop kitsch instead of true vulnerability, or how the ghosts of panicked shrieks towards the back of nothing amazing happens try to facilitate something bigger and bolder that never materialises. Obviously stylism’s worth in is the eye of the beholder, but with how much HUNNY seem to be actively restraining themselves from exploring avenues further, it can be hard to get along with. When that notion properly sinks in, it can actually tarnish New Planet Heaven by an unfortunate amount, with how closed-in it can all begin to feel.

Obviously mileage with that will vary (there’s a reason bands like this consistently rack up hundreds of thousands of streams, after all), but from the viewpoint of the bedroom-pop blight having far and away overstayed its welcome, to see HUNNY so close to actually working inside it and not fully getting there is a little disappointing. Simply because there’s no need for them to be like that. With a few tweaks and turned screws, New Planet Heaven could be a seriously charming, engaging little indie-pop album; it’s just a shame that the roadblocks in the way are so prominent and prevalent. At the same time though, compared to others, this isn’t one to complain about too much. When the quality can still shine through—and rather brightly in patches, at that—HUNNY are still just fine for themselves. Not bad, on the whole.

For fans of: Bad Suns, COIN, lovelytheband

‘New Planet Heaven’ by HUNNY is released on 6th October on Epitaph Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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