2020 was an unprecedented year full of general weirdness. I think that we can all agree about that. But to me one of the weirdest events was the release of a new album by Hum.
Hum existed in the 1990s. They had a few minor hits in that decade, and in fact i went to see them back when Atlanta's Cotton Club was on Peachtree, across from where the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is now located. And then they broke up...
But a new album. Huh, okay. I liked them back then, and in fact have occasionally brought out my copy of You'd Prefer and Astronaut, one of the many records that epitomizes the mid 1990s to me. So i went and listened to the sample tracks that they posted with album announcement... Sounded good. Really good. That Hum heavy, nerdy, grunge sound.
So i preordered the LP. And while the physical copy was delayed due to pressing plant problems, i got a download of the album in July and, well, it kind of filled the last half of 2020 for me.
The record starts off as classic Hum with layers of grinding guitar and thudding drums on Waves. The vocals sound a little flatter than they do on YPAA, but it has that roar, that mass of guitar noise that Hum do so well. This song takes their previous history, does it well, and prepares the stage to move on.
In the Den starts with a loop of some whirring noise, then the guitars come chugging in and the tune gets epic. It is a catchy song, with one guitar grinding and the other tinkling a melody, as the drummer pounds the tar out of his kit. But the vocals sound more like what i remember, with some tone of Matt Talbot's voice captured here. This is a monster of a song.
The next song is pretty similar, at first. It's called Desert Rambler and about three minutes in, it slows down and Talbot starts singing about being in a spaceship coming to a place and seeing "settlement fires" and carrying water to unload.... Hum are, apparently, sci fi nerds. Huh. It's a pretty song, the band playing a slower sort of post-rock here, until the end, when overdrive pedals are stomped and the song gets loud and ends forcefully.
As soon as the spacey roar ends, drummer Bryan St. Pere starts a catchy riff, the guitars chug, and Hum tear into a grungey power pop tune called Step Into You. If this had come out in 1994 people would have been moshing like crazy to it at Lollapalooza... A really great song.
Hum switch it up for The Summoning, a deep grinding song with the voice buried under layers of guitar. This song almost has a doom metal feel to it, with a ponderous heaviness. It is heavy, but not as emotionally bleak as a lot of doom metal.
On the other hand, Cloud City seems a little lighter than a lot of Hum songs, the guitars grinding in layers that are not as thick as they usually are, with a little more space around them. The song ends with a long, slow, sparse grind. Nice.
The drumming on Folding is intense, and yet kind of flat through some oddity of recording. It works really well with the guitars, one of which is a fuzzed-out layer and the other picks a melody. This is loud and glorious, then after about four minutes it slows and is four minutes of deep space exploration, guitars sparse and distant and echoing to hell and back. In a way, the whirring guitar at the end reminds me of Memory Gongs by Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins.
And then finally the record ends with Shapeshifter. The first five minutes of this eight minute song are typical Hum, with layers of guitars and drums moving in ponderous, distorted layers. Cool. But then the distortion changes and it becomes a very different song, one much lighter. The guitars strum and jangle as Talbot tells an odd story about travelling around and changing into different creatures and flying around, swimming, etc. It's like 2 different songs tacked together. An interesting end to the record.
As someone who enjoyed Hum in the 1990s, i am very pleased with this record. Great stuff.