The Beat: Sacramento with Honyock’s El Castillo and Boy Romeo’s Shorts EP

First, a brief introduction.

At a recent event a friend bemoaned the lack of outlets that cover local music, let alone review albums. I offered suggestions, but joined her in resignation that it wasn’t enough. In fact, there is no outlet that offers regular critical analysis of the music scene. Two days later, I texted the founder of Voices: River City with the idea for this column. Two reviews and a featured single.

For now, this will be a monthly report. Hardly the sort of reportorial addition that will save the music scene, but with community support on the V:RC Patreon page the next step will be a bi-monthly edition. Four albums and two singles reviewed a month. That’s progress. Please, help us get there.

Honyock, El Castillo (Friendship Forever)

Honyock’s El Castillo 

Ambitious without entirely disrupting the subdued intention, El Castillo is Honyock calling in favors from their talented friends to fill out a studio sound that nestles into a sweet blend of 1970s soft rock and folk rock. It’s the sort of hyper-produced record that merits a 12” pressing. “Patron” sets the pace by balancing the folk rock touchtones with a swinging rhythm that’s recorded with an indecipherable depth. There’s a mystery in this sound that invites imagination. Where it falters is when Honyock attempt to fill in the blanks for the listener. “Aunt Dilluvian” attempts a pop maximalism the album could do without; drop the fawning for Tame Impala’s mainstream psychedelia that’s safely designed for the microdosing dad. The departure is easily forgotten though once the harmonies on “I’ll Never Let You In Again” arrive, a track that takes a startling turn into an inspired guitar solo over a sinister bass riff. Many of El Castillo’s finest moments communicate a simpatico between the literary lyrics and the innovative songwriting. That Baroque interruption in “Middle English” will always feel like a nod to “In My Life,” but Honyock make it their own nonetheless. For Honyock, El Castillo keeps the mystery and heartache at the center, here the soil is rich and the album blossoms.

Stream/Purchase Honyock’s El Castillo on Bandcamp or on Spotify.

Boy Romeo, Shorts EP (Mt. St. Mtn.)

Boy Romeo’s Shorts EP

After an initial digital and unofficial cassette run, Boy Romeo’s Shorts EP has received official vinyl pressing from localish label Mt. St. Mtn. Boy Romeo’s self-titled debut (2017) was unbridled power pop bliss, the sort of album that steps on Rivers Cuomo’s black rims in its final step into jumping air kicks and a freeze frame ending. Boy Romeo are still chasing that big hit, that “Santa Monica” or “Inside Out,” but the Shorts EP is an aside like most EPs tend to be. The mutated doo wop of “Star King” and “Don’t Call Me Girl” is undeniable, wholesome and comfortable with being janky. “Public” is the lone holdout from the pop punk expressions on the debut, the remainder of Shorts obsesses over a 1950s swing, a slice of bygone teenage craze. Maybe Boy Romeo is just going through a serious Costello kick? Perhaps this is the realized manifestation of the band’s moniker? It’s still too early to instill expectation on Boy Romeo. The Shorts EP will either be remembered as the turning point when Boy Romeo went full Buddy Holly (instead of cheekily mocking how they resemble him) or understood as a conversation in parentheses. Nonetheless, the Shorts EP is for the tender-hearted, a six-song collection that ain’t afraid to be fragile even in those fleeting bursts of courage that demand a clean break-up.

Stream Boy Romeo’s Shorts EP on Spotify or Bandcamp and purchase the LP from Mt St Mtn.

A Single Discussion

Zyah Belle’s “Woodrow Ave” and Yelly’s “Lately” are two R&B singles fit for radio but so far resigned to meager Youtube plays. Zyah is the former Sac State Hornet and American River College student who came here from Vallejo to study music performance and has since moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career. Yelly is her younger counterpart (only 16), still here and making her entry into music. Zyah’s “Woodrow Ave” feels like if Jill Scott signed to TDE, the video is a day-in-the-life of her old Vallejo neighborhood. The neo-soul inflections are a far departure from video game concept album New Levels. The songwriting on “Woodrow Ave” is wisely designed to Zyah’s life, but the nostalgia is universal and therefore we all know what Woodrow represents.


Yelly’s “Lately” video is riding this current Instagram wave of visiting the sunflower fields of Yolo County, while also adding its own flavor of scouting the most visually appealing laundromat in Sacramento–perhaps sparking the next most desirable location for a photo shoot. The sounds and styling of Yelly mesh rap flow to R&B vocals, a style found in many modern artists like SZA and Kehlani, and the production is equally occupying that zone in which a rap remix is not out of the question. “Lately” is instantly infectious, the hypnotic production and whirring saxophone sample complement Yelly’s sour disposition over a former partner feigning disinterest in the past.

Zyah Belle

During Zyah’s heavy local press circuit surrounding the 2016 release of New Levels, back when she was playing Harlow’s, Momo’s and Fox & Goose, she described to SN&R her inevitable move to Los Angeles as “something that has to happen in order to get where I want to be.” It’s still the truth in 2018. Someday Yelly could be telling that same publication that same story. And the best we can hope for is that she leaves Sacramento in her artist bio (as Zyah has done) and doesn’t speak of an ambiguous Northern California upbringing. This is all to say, celebrate our R&B artists of color now, give them space to perform and opportunities to thrive. Hasn’t this narrative of moving away to make it gone on long enough?


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Blake Gillespie
Blake Gillespie is a freelance journalist based in Sacramento. He's a former co-owner of Impose Magazine and has contributed at the Sacramento News & Review, the Sacramento Bee, the East Bay Express, Comstock's and His decade-plus of experience is in music, arts, sports, political and culture coverage.