Displaying items by tag: Matt Stewart

Love in Minor Key – Hum

MADISONVILLE, KY (10/5/13) - Greetings and salutations my dear readers, all four of you—hello! Today’s column is going to be about a '90s band that you probably vaguely remember. It’s Hum! If I say “Do you like Hum?” and your only response is “Stars!” you don’t really know Hum. But that’s Ok. I’m about to enlighten you. This isn’t just another simple review; this one is going to be a soapbox from which I’m going to release unto you a deluge of wonderful music. Music from a band that I’ve always loved and I believe you will too. Didn’t I say before it wouldn’t always be a simple music review, that sometimes it would be my musings on a band I like, hate or love, full of offhand rambling tangents? Didn’t I?

Well, first, we need to set the mood...The 1990s: Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and so many other great bands roamed the Top 40 radio airwaves. It was a worryingly short period of time when you could be an off-the-wall group of malcontents playing strange and abrasive music and still get a major record deal. Bands took the popular music and culture of the ‘80s and gave both a good smack in the mouth. It was a proverbial flush of the collective toilet of popular music. Bands who had dominated the airwaves in the ‘80s, wearing eyeliner and spandex while a metric ton of cocaine roared thru their system, had been replaced by teenagers in unwashed flannel, Chuck Taylors, and heroin. A glorious time to come of age! Don’t let that last bit of crassness get you all in fits. If you, my dear reader, decide to stick around, you’ll realize I have what many would call a dark sense of humor. If you can’t find a joke in the horrible bits of life, what’s the point of it really? Well, I’d better get back to the topic at hand before I get all sentimental and dye my hair green with kool-aid, again.

Hum! Yes, Hum. To have such an unassuming name, Hum brought something special to the loud-soft dynamic that was a staple of so many rock bands of the decade. Hum was formed in 1989 when Matt Talbot and Andy Switzky met in a coffee shop in Urbana, Illinois. Matt and Andy would go on to form the core of what would become the early version of Hum. A demo (“Kissing Me Is Like Kissing An Angel”) and a record (Fillet Show) soon followed. The songs on Fillet Show were dominated by Andy, their primary songwriter at the time, and feature slightly humorous and often political lyrics with a very indie rock vibe and punk sensibility. There were glimpses of what was to come, but overall the record feels a bit insincere. It sounds like your average high school band’s first EP/demo—a bit immature and simple. It lacks the complexity of songwriting that really defined Hum’s later albums. It’s not a bad album; it’s not really great either. It’s simply a solid effort. Fans of Poster Children, Minor Threat, and Fugazi will gravitate towards this album.

Shortly after the release of Fillet Show, creative differences led Andy to leave the band. This left Matt as the primary songwriter and, in this humble man’s opinion, this is when Hum went from being an above-average indie-rock band into something that will last the test of time. No, I’m not trying to say Hum surpassed the Fifth Symphony. I'm simply saying that, when viewed in the context of the ‘90s alternative-rock music scene, they should be judged to be the peers of the big ‘90s acts like The Smashing Pumpkins or Soundgarden, only to name a few. And I would wager that if they would've received a bit more mainstream airplay, I think they would've been as big as many of those bands. Even in a decade when pop music had been transformed into the antithesis of the shallow glitz and glam of the ‘80s, it still had certain fickle expectations that barred many a band from getting heavy rotation on the mainstream radio shows.

With the bands lineup finally coalescing into Matt Talbot on guitar and vocals, Tim Lash on guitar, Jeff Dimpsey on bass, and Bryan St. Pere on drums, a second release in the form of Electra 2000 soon followed. A more experimental and expansive style began to develop during this album. A sound that, while hinted at on Fillet Show, never got its full deserved attention. Electra 2000 is ephemeral and atmospheric. Intricate instrumental passages open up into soaring choruses dense with feedback and distortion so thick it envelopes you. It’s rough around the edges; low cost production and an unusual mix created a record that is garage rock at its finest. It’s an album filled with heartache, teenage frustration, and alienation. All the cliché Flotsam and Jetsam from the ‘90s music scene is here in full effect. It was a great start to a short but influential career. Standouts on this album are “Iron Clad Lou,” “Pinch and Roll,” “Shovel,” “Pewter”… the whole album is solid. Go listen to it now! Right here!

A heavy dose of science, space, and heartache created a record that will go down as a proverbial diamond in the rough for fans of ‘90s rock: You’d Prefer an Astronaut. If Electra 2000 didn’t really grow on you, there is a good chance this is the album that will grab you and make you a fan. For those of you out there that are already familiar with “Stars” and claim be a fan of Hum, it’s time to put up or shut up. Listen to this album, and if you can’t claim that you like at least half of this album, you aren’t a fan of Hum. That’s okay though, I’ve still got one more record to hook you with! There really is something special about this album. The songs have the same pulsating walls of thick distorted guitars, elaborate riffs, and space-infused lyrical imagery that were found on Electra 2000, but on this outing they are delivered with laser focus and a more polished mix.

The angsty emotional energy of previous albums gave way to a more astute understanding of what it takes to write a great song. Lyrically, the tales of heartache, alienation, and philosophical musings are still present, but they are more mature and subdued in their delivery. Themes are handled tactfully in abstract ways instead of screamed in teenage fury. This album is Hum at its finest. Stand out tracks on the album include the obligatory “Stars,” “I Hate It Too,” “The Pod,” “Why I Like the Robins,” and “I’d Like Your Hair Long.” You can listen to the album for free here.

Hum’s next major release came in the form of Downward is Heavenward, a worthy bookend to a great catalog. Not many things changed with this release; the bulwark of dizzyingly thick suspended chords, half-spoken and screamed lyrical passages glued together by a tight rhythm section, and precision focus on the production, are still present in spades (all the hallmarks of what makes Hum, well… Hum). I’m not going to claim this record changed the equation and did something revolutionary. This record is more of the same, but, in the case of Hum, that’s something to be cherished. Many bands go through many evolutionary fits and starts—that challenge to keep things interesting. I think Hum figured out their voice as a band early in their career. They found their niche in the melodical and oblique. They mined diamond out of that fusion of lyrical imagery and sound. This would turn out to be the last major release for Hum. The band was never dropped and they never broke up. They just felt they were done. I’ve never thought that was really the case. I think they were a band that hung it up in their prime. My favorites on this album include: “Afternoon with the Axolotls,” "The Inuit Promise,” "Isle of the Cheetah,” “Comin’ Home,” and "Green to Me.” Listen to the album here!

I hope your auditory journey through these four albums was enjoyable, and I hope at least a few of you will find a new band to love.

With that, I will sleep contentedly knowing that I spread a little bit of happiness to my fellow man.

Thank you Matt Talbot, Tim Lash, Jeff Dimpsey, and Bryan St. Pere for giving us all these wonderful sounds. If any of you out there end up loving Hum and would like to make the trip to St. Louis or Chicago to catch a reunion show, as they tend to have one every few years, give me a shout. Hum’s major fansite, Mission Control, is the best place to catch up on news with the band and even to chat with other fans. They have answers to any random question about the band you can imagine. 

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To view past “Love in Minor Key” reviews and/or articles, click here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Matt and Lindsey Stewart

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Love in Minor Key - Skeleton Key, 'Gravity is the Enemy'

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/29/13) - New York's Skeleton Key has released their first new album in nearly a decade, and it was worth the wait. Gravity is the Enemy on Arctic Rodeo Records is a rowdy, 53 minutes worth of junk banging joy.

Formed by Lounge Lizard alumni and puppeteer Erik Sanko, Skeleton Key brings the avant-garde to the mainstream. The four-piece band consists of Erik Sanko on bass and vocals, Craig LeBlang on guitar, Bob Vaccarelli on drums, and Benjamin Clapp on junk. Yeah, you heard that right, Clapp plays junk.

Light-hearted weirdness and junk percussion could easily become a gimmick for most rock bands, but Skeleton Key has once again demonstrated just how talented they are at making fine art out of the aural chaos of a factory floor. Imagine a freight train billowing smoke and rumbling down the track full speed, but it's filled with pillows and spitting flowers. That is the dichotomy of Skeleton Key. Great rock riffs and pop hooks abound, but they are punctuated by an array of unusual sounds—the ping of a drum stick hitting a propane tank or mallets beating on the strings of an old bass fiddle.

Even if unusual subject matter like ditties about circus freaks and sea-shanty interludes aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with this release. There is enough straight-down-the-middle rock feeling to please even the most fickle of ears. Fans of The Melvins, Tomahawk, and Helmet will feel right at home with Gravity Is The Enemy.

Stand out tracks on the album include “Machine Screw,” “The Mowing Devil,” “Everybody's Crutch,” and the title track, “Gravity is the Enemy." You can find the album for free on Spotify here.

5 Landon Beards out of 5

NOTE: The rating scale for our music reviews is represented by the late Landon Miller's bearded mug—or will be once we get the graphics designed. Originally, Landon had the position of music reviewer. Yet, due to being extremely busy, he had to hand the position off. I had always planned on using his likeness, and his beard especially, as a visual representation of how I felt about an album I reviewed. It really was an epic beard. (It needs it's own awesome adventure comic. I'll work on that idea at some other point, I promise.) But I had intended it as a joke for him. Landon was always a good-natured guy with a quick, heart-warming smile, and I can only hope he would flash that smile again knowing I was going to use his bearded mug as our barometer of whether or not a band was worthy. We used to spend the greater portion of our time together talking about bass, techniques, music, gear, and mostly...bands. We had a mutual love for strange and/or weird bands and genres. We used to burn each other CDs of obscure bands that we thought each other would like. It was during one of those conversations that Landon introduced me to Skeleton Key. That was four or five years ago. It was one of the first times he had heard my bass lines/riffs. He used to always say I played "circus bass," which is a label, I think, that aptly fits to my original compositions. But it was after hearing me play a certain riff, which I''m sure many of you have heard me play ad nausem, that he said, "Dude, that sounds like a Skeleton Key riff!" I said "Who?" A CD was quickly produced and he was right. I ended up loving that band. We had always talked about doing a two-bass band that wrote weird little songs about weird little things, which we wanted to call "Skin and Bones," because, hey, two fat guys playing bass called "Skin and Bones" is humorously ironic. We liked the dichotomy. But anyways, I'm rambling. I have lots of little stories and tidbits about Landon, as I'm sure everyone whose lives he touched does. I'll share some of them over the coming years with you all. I love you Landon. I hope to jam again with you some day.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Matt & Lindsey Stewart

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Love in Minor Key - Introduction

"credit" Jessi SmithHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/21/13) - When Sugg Street Post co-owners Jessica Dockrey and Luke Short mentioned the position of music columnist and music reviewer, I thought, “Why not?" and threw my hat into the ring. After no one else actually submitted a sample piece, they settled on their first choice. Think of this as my informal introduction as I find my voice in this role (that is, if they intend to keep me after this disaster). On with the occasionally humorous and always over the top pretentious meandering...imagine this as the Star Wars opening crawl. It helps, or at least it does in my mind. Oh, yeah, I'm dragging my wife Lindsey along for the ride as co-writer, researcher, and proofreader.

Music: what is it? Not the textbook definition of artfully arranged sound - what is it really? The universal language? A force of nature that makes you shake your ass when you have no business doing so? An emotional outpouring? Simply notes on a page or a harmonically pleasing oscillation of string? Math? It's all those things and none of them. It's simply a matter of what angle you view the answer from. For someone like me, who is more of a somber and slow fellow, music is an emotional and physical catalyst. In general, when I'm sad, I listen to sad songs and they make me happy. When I listen to energetic and upbeat music, I bounce around the room and punch the air like I'm fighting invisible ninjas. When I hear dance music, I want to hide, unless my inhibition circuit has been compromised and my dance circuit has been engaged (in which case, please give me water and make me lie down). Happy music makes me sleepy, unless there is a bass line so funky I can't help but rock my head like an exotic bird trying to attract a mate.
    
That's the beauty of music. We all have different emotional responses to it - some positive and some negative. Sometimes we don't like what we hear, sometimes we do... and sometimes we do but we really can't say it in certain company. I like old-timey country and western albums by Slim Whitman and the spastic new-wave stylings of Wall of Voodoo. If that little bit of honesty doesn't disqualify me for this job, I don't know what will.

I've been accused of being a music snob in the past, and for a certain period in my mid-to-late teens, that would be an apt observation. As I've matured, my tastes have broadened, and I have turned into something that my 16-year-old self would love to ridicule (to which I would say,"'The Power of Love' by Huey Lewis and the News," leaving my 16-year-old self to slink away defeated). I've come to the realization over the years that, usually, when you first hear an album or are introduced to a new genre or sub genre by a friend or colleague, you're inclined to ignore it.  But as is usually the case after an initial “I don't care for this out of spite” phase has passed and you are ready to give the album a listen, you will usually find one song on the disc that sinks in and takes root. From then on, the album is put on repeat until the euphoria of the four or five tracks you end up loving give way to a respect for the album as a whole. You have to give an album a fair listen and a long, thorough look. If you don't give it that, you can't judge it fairly and on its merits. All art has merit even if it isn't immediately apparent. Lindsey has proven that to me many times over. If you would have asked me 10 years ago what my opinion was of traditional Romanian folks songs, you would have been met with a vacant and mildly annoyed expression. Not these days.
    
That's how our review process will work. We promise to always give every album a fair shake, even if we don't like it or love it in the end. We will always give it time to sink in and breathe, and maybe our praise and criticisms of the wide world of music will be fair enough that, in your exuberance and/or exasperation, you won't call us hipsters, nor chase us out of town with your pitchforks.

Our column won't always be a cut and dry music review. Occasionally, it will be our musing on a certain genre or sub-genre of music, or a criminally underrated (or even overrated) band. It will be as likely to be 20th Century Hungarian neo-classical as it is to be J-pop. We may take you on a journey through the history of trip-hop or Bela Bartok. We hope to entertain and inform with the column, and, over the coming years, we hope to learn as well. There is always new music to find and enjoy, and even some to snicker at after a few beers.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Matt & Lindsey Stewart
Photo by Jessi Smith

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