The Honored Guests haven't released new music since 2006's sprawling departure, the keyboard-and-atmosphere-soaked Tastes Change. But the Chapel Hill quartet, three-quarters of which have been playing together in bands for almost a decade, never broke up, despite their public absence. Rather, jobs, journeys and life milestones simply divided and delayed the sessions for their third album, Please Try Again, allegedly due this fall through the band's own label, Breakfast Mascot.
Into Nostalgia, a free online-only EP that frontman Russ Baggett began recording as a woodshed distraction, is more than a stopgap. The time has ostensibly served Baggett and the band well, allowing them to develop both as players (opener "Hey Jude Law" glides through serpentine acoustic parts) and arrangers (closer "Paper Cuts" stretches past six minutes, but its interweaving textures maintain interest throughout). These 25 minutes are quiet but not content, recorded as if with twin ambitions not to overpower or overstate while simultaneously testing the softer limits of the band's range. "Chasing Some Wild Sheep Chasing the Wild Dream," for instance, suggests a fever dream captured at low volume. Staccato drums and saturated bass compete for a cramped space, shooting between three voices that crisscross through guitars and keyboards. The song flickers, fades and flickers again, like reverb-and-stomp rock act Band of Horses trying to share quarters with perennial creepers Low.
Even the double-stacked, relatively straightforward pop tunes—the jangly "Jimmy's a Cop Now" and the minor and muted "I Want You To See Through Me"—push The Honored Guests out of their comfort zone. Baggett experiments with falsetto here, and the band builds a coruscated setting of electronics for him there. Reflective and graceful, with any solo-project temerity masked by generous arrangements, Into Nostalgia is, I hope, an ironic indicator of a strong (and expedited, please) future.