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the airwaves in the ‘80s, wearing eyeliner and spandex while a metric ton of cocaine roared thru their system, had been replaced by teenagers in unwashed flannel, Chuck Taylors, and heroin.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.
To view past “Love in Minor Key” reviews and/or articles, click here.
Sugg Street Post
Written by Matt and Lindsey Stewart