Honey Owens should have no problem fitting in with the esteemed roster of Kranky Records. The label made a name for itself in 2000 with the release of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s space-rock opus, “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven,” and has more recently housed the “ambient punk” of press darlings Deerhunter and the minimalist Stars of the Lid. Owens handles live bass duties for Atlas Sound, the detached and dreamy pop side project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, and frequently collaborates with labelmate and boyfriend Adam Forkner. Under the guise Valet, she has issued a new record that at first glance seems to be yet another entry in Kranky’s celebrated explorations of experimental noise and drone.
So much for first impressions. Upon closer inspection, “Naked Acid” reveals itself to be completely devoid of any of her contemporaries’ winning qualities. While Deerhunter provides the backbeat for some hipshake, Valet’s works are far too sedate to ever dance to; the emotional torment that keeps Atlas Sound’s hazy recollections interesting are completely absent in Valet’s soulless lyrics; Godspeed You! Black Emperor punctuated their music with an orchestral vocabulary, but Valet’s staid guitar/drum/bass rambles are almost immediately redundant; and while Stars of the Lid’s slow-motion symphonies provide the perfect soundtrack for rapid eye movement or a lonely, moonlit drive home, the noise rock treble and thunderous percussion of “Naked Acid” are far too caustic to ever lull or hypnotize.
Essentially, the vast majority of Valet’s work here wanks indefinitely, but would haunt and horrify stoned summer festival concert goers rather than elevate their high. If Phish were transported by The Worst Trip Ever to some alternate universe, got broadsided by an interstellar space bus and wound up frying in some kind of extra-dimensional jam band hell, “Naked Acid” could be the resultant field recording. Opener “We Went There” uses sleigh bells and pretty synths to set the stage for some pleasant meanderings, but the atmosphere soon lights afire in an inferno of self-mutilating guitar and embarrassing druid chants. “Kehaar” sounds like Yanni hemorrhaging while on some bad ‘shrooms, and the drunken lo-fi gibberish of “Fuck It” is in league with the dregs of Guided By Voices’ half-baked snippets, albeit one stretched nine times longer than even Robert Pollard would ever dare. The title of “Babylon 4 Eva” is actually the least embarrassing thing about the track, and the album closing “Streets” is a sad attempt at an ambient dance track, evidently programmed by someone with very little sense of rhythm.
The only souvenir tenably worth saving here is “Fire,” a dreamy slab of comatose folk. While “Naked Acid” is a painfully imprecise album, one that seems formed only by the grace of not-so-happy accidents and sonic coincidences, “Fire” is the one song that approaches tangible value. Even then, it’s only noteworthy in the context of the record’s copious failures — it’s far from a saving grace, but at least evidence that Owens is not entirely incompetent.
And to be fair, she isn’t. In fact, she’s made a name for herself around Stump Town by co-founding both the music club Dunes and the tiny record imprint Yarnlazer. In terms of the solo album, though, she’s better off putting down the microphone and going back to playing second hand.