This is what I thought the first time I heard Hampshire & Foat: oh my god these guys, oh my god I need more.
That was just a couple weeks ago. I’d stumbled upon their 2017 debut Galaxies Like Grains of Sand by chance, hearing the opening track and instantly feeling the need to hear everything they’d made. Lucky for me, they were just about to release their followup, The Honeybear.
Even luckier still, the music on this album is no mere extension of the nocturnal jazz bliss of its forebear. In a gently realized twist, they’ve flipped into a sort of hypnotic ambient folk sound, their spectral energy having transferred from cyberpunk skylines to pastoral oases.
The duo comprises UK jazz pianist Greg Foat and multi-instrumentalist Warren Hampshire, both accomplished musicians with their own respective bands, The Greg Foat Group and The Bees. However, this was the first time I’d tuned into their unlikely psychedelia. I was instantly smitten with its sort of smoky, neon-tinged mixture of jazz, library music, modern minimalism, ambient, and soundtrack vibes; the music felt tailor-made for my tastes.
When I realized that this new discovery had a second album already waiting to be heard, I hesitated. I needed to absorb the first one enough to really get a feel. So after a half-dozen listens, I moved on to The Honeybear.
My first impression was that it felt stripped-down, a bit more minimal, but then its relatively smaller set of elements started to flourish as the album went on. Indeed, there are no guest orchestras to fill out the sound this time; the pair add brushes of expert soloing on wind and string instruments, warm ambient pads, and a swarming atmosphere sparked with twinkling percussion and billowing synth arpeggios. The entire affair sounds like it was recorded on a beekeeping field, with the buzz of insects dancing around the edges of the production at key moments, flitting through the mix with magic-hour sunshine and a deep sense of welcome isolation.
As it turns out, this tangible specificity was by design – Foat and Hampshire had finally pulled the trigger on their concept album based on a fictional fairy tale book, The Honey Bear. Listening again with this knowledge, it was clear how each track expresses a chapter of the book, with the field recordings helping anchor their grand arc in a distinctive island setting.
I have no idea what I’d categorize this music as, but if I had to describe it to a stranger at the pub, I’d say this: it’s an ambient fever dream of classic British folk music and drifting psychedelia. It’s the kind of album for laying stoned on your back outdoors, or in complete darkness just before bed. It’s warm and comforting and strange and adventurous and haunting all the same.
You can hear the whole album streaming courtesy of label Athens of the North below:
The Honeybear can be pre-ordered on CD, vinyl, or digital on the Bandcamp page.