Choker 'Honeybloom' Album Review: An Ambitious Departure from Frank Ocean's Shadow - DJBooth

Choker's 'Honeybloom' Is an Ambitious Departure from Frank Ocean's Shadow

"'Honeybloom' manages to place the tenderness of Frank’s vocals in the context of an experimental aesthetic that is unique to Choker."
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Choker's 'Honeybloom' Is an Ambitious Departure From Frank Ocean's Shadow

In the countless hours I’ve spent watching the painfully formulaic, yet endlessly absorbing line-up of competitive cooking shows on the Food Network, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard a professional food critic praise a particular dish for its “complex depth of flavor.” Expounding in flowery language about how “each bite evolves as it breaks down, satiating a different part of the palette,” these judges tend to talk about food in terms so absurdly formal that I often feel like I’ve never adequately appreciated a meal in my entire life. 

My lack of culinary expertise aside, it was this rubric that immediately sprung to my mind the first time I pressed play on Choker’s new album, Honeybloom.

If the antithesis of one of these celebrated dishes is, say, boxed macaroni and cheese—all one-note and neon orange cheese powder—Honeybloom is a multifaceted dish that unfolds slowly as you consume it, revealing distinct layers of spice and texture each time you dig in. The anticipated follow-up to his raw, but inspired debut, Peak, Honeybloom sees Choker venturing further left-field into the experimental territory he inhabited previously, sidestepping immediate accessibility and easy categorizations in favor of creating a more meaningful product. “Longevity or impact, what’s more important?” he muses on “Arboretum,” giving voice to an existential quandary that seems to define the album more broadly.

Across Honeybloom’s 14 songs, Choker offers myriad evidence typifying this artistic push and pull. A naturally magnetic performer, he resists the urge to coast on these laurels by showing as little interest in traditional song structure as Jenga players do in sound architectural practices. An effortlessly gifted songwriter, he seeks to challenge himself by continuously disrupting the momentum of songs, abandoning winning hooks at the drop of a hat in favor of impromptu rap verses or ethereal instrumental breaks.

In this respect, Choker’s songs tend to scan more like the scores of imaginary movie trailers than they do conventional R&B. Motifs might repeat over the course of a given song, but there’s never any guarantee that they’ll resolve neatly. Instead, you can think of Choker’s songs as compositions that shift dynamically to match unseen narrative arcs, ebbing in response to variations in tone and switching genres completely to reveal new plot details. 

The album’s sprawling standout, “Rocket,” offers a perfect illustration of this approach. Transforming over the course of its six-minute runtime, the song spans at least four different genres, beginning as a charismatic rap song, ending with the sounds of a youth choir, briefly stopping along the way to morph into a transcendent ambient interlude and a gorgeous R&B cut. On paper, this shouldn’t work, but Choker miraculously pulls it all together in cinematic fashion, showcasing an immense talent for composition.

Naturally, this artistic approach is inherently limited by the listener’s ability to appreciate it. People who tend to lose patience easily might find themselves feeling frustrated, tantalized by each song’s fleeting moments of accessibility, but ultimately displeased by what they perceive to be a lack of focus. In the event that you’re feeling this way, I encourage you to push past this initial dissatisfaction and give the album a couple more spins. The album’s density offers a unique opportunity to really sink your teeth in and let it unravel slowly. Over the course of repeated listens, you may eventually stop lamenting the sudden disappearance of the catchy refrain you loved, buoyed by the presence of dozens of others, each of which offers additional gratification when they eventually arrive because they never outlive their novelty.

I hesitate to do so because the comparison is so overwrought, but it must be noted that Choker does indeed sound uncannily like Frank Ocean. It’s both a blessing and a curse; simultaneously his music’s greatest selling point and also the looming shadow it can’t escape. Addressing the comparison directly in previous interviews, Choker has shrugged it off, explaining that “[he] can’t really help how his voice sounds.” As I see it, though, there are far worse inspirations to wear on your sleeve. If at its worst, Choker’s music strikes you as little more than a halfway-passable Frank Ocean impression, it is already an immense triumph. At its best, however, Honeybloom manages to place the tenderness of Frank’s vocals in the context of an experimental aesthetic that is unique to Choker, creating a release that doesn’t necessarily transcend the comparison entirely but is certainly worthy of appreciation on its own merits.

Three Standout Tracks

"Drift"

Kicking the album off on a note that feels fitting, this song begins with a sound effect that resembles the distinct frequency of an antenna being tuned, setting the tone for what’s to come sonically. 

Choker absolutely floats over this song’s lush production, oscillating between singing and rapping while he ruminates extemporaneously on a host of topics, like lost connections and the weight of expectations. The interplay between the two instruments during the song’s instrumental outro is nothing short of gorgeous, showcasing Choker’s immense talents as a producer.

"Windbreaker"

For an artist who is just 21, Choker’s lyrics often display an emotional maturity that is wise beyond his years. “When we run out of things to talk about, will you still listen to our silence?” he wonders aloud on this song, discussing the crossroads couples eventually reach where they’re forced to confront the distressing fact that mature love must ultimately endure the end of the honeymoon phase. Too short to provide many opportunities for sonic evolution, this song is as close to standard fare R&B as we get on this album, allowing for a dazzling display of Choker’s gorgeous vocal tone.

"Rocket"

As alluded to above, “Rocket” is Honeybloom’s sprawling opus, spanning a six-minute runtime and at least four different genres. Though his talents as a singer surpass his skills as a rapper, “Rocket” shows that Choker is no slouch on the mic, proving that he is capable of writing clever bars (“Stay isolated like Kobe in Staples”). The ambient interlude in the middle of this song is downright meditative in its transfixing beauty.

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