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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the airwaves in the ‘80s, wearing eyeliner and spandex while a metric ton of cocaine roared thru their system, had been replaced by teenagers in unwashed flannel, Chuck Taylors, and heroin.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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The Courthouse

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (6/21/13) - A siren could be heard in the distance. There were loud popping sounds accompanying the bright flashes, which were accentuating the night sky. Exploding firecrackers added to the excitement of the occasion. A marching band struck up a hearty rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner.” The street signs were adorned with flags and brightly colored placards. The old courthouse was lit with red and blue lights. As always, the courthouse was the focal point for the annual Independence Day celebration. The townspeople lined the streets to witness the pageantry of this patriotic event. It was a time to also reflect on the one hundred and twenty-seven celebrations which had come before.

A cannon salute signaled the festivities of the 1886 celebration. The town was not only celebrating the birth of the nation, but a new courthouse as well. People came as far as fifty miles away to see this wondrous structure. It was an extremely ornate building supported by marble pillars. In the center of the structure was an impressive clock which chimed on every hour. Each window was individually sculptured with lead glass in each pane. Over the huge double entrance was carved: COUNTY COURTHOUSE. At the top of the steeple, a flag stood motionless in the hot summer air. There was loud cheering as Civil War veterans rode proudly past on their spirited steeds. The mayor proclaimed: "This building is dedicated to all those individuals who are committed to keeping our country free." With that, the crowd roared its resounding approval. The courthouse was the picture of modern architecture and gothic beauty.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, a different celebration was being held. The long overdue monument to the Civil War dead was being dedicated. A local resident who had served directly under General Grant was the first to speak: "It was a scary time for the country and for a nineteen-year-old soldier." He continued: "I remember how badly I felt when I heard that President Lincoln had been shot. I truly believed the country had lost the only person who could put it back together again." The recent assassination of President McKinley was still in the minds of the people in the audience. The old soldier gave way to another who had fought on the opposite side. This gentleman had fought gallantly under General George Pickett, having survived the famous charge at Gettysburg. He spoke in a high, piercing voice: "It was a time of stubbornness and unmitigated pride. We thought we were fighting for a principle, but we were really caught up with the aura of the times." There were more speeches that day and more painful memories. A bugle sounded taps as the flag was raised to half-mast atop the courthouse steeple. The courthouse was sullenly quiet. We were mourning the recent loss of a President and the passing of a bygone era.

Fifteen years later, the country was in the middle of the First World War. There were streamers galore, each sending a message of support to doughboys everywhere. Lemonade flowed freely to quench the thirst caused by the boiling sun. A sign was hung over the courthouse entrance. It read: WE SUPPORT OUR BOYS. There were patriotic essays read aloud by local dignitaries. An essay by a ten-year old girl from a nearby county was declared the winner. She wrote how proud she was of her country. She also wrote about the beautiful countryside with its colorful flowers and towering sycamore trees. The day could not have been complete without a parade. In keeping with the mood, the parade's theme reflected support for America in its war effort. The courthouse chimed a resounding eight times signifying the end of a perfect celebration.

In 1933, the country was in the middle of a horrible depression. The courthouse, in fact, housed all kinds of helping agencies created by the Roosevelt Administration. However, today's celebration was anything but glum. There was an abundance of food and drinks available in the makeshift cafeteria located in tents in back of the courthouse. The courthouse had just received a new coat of paint inside and out. It looked and smelled like a new building. There was promise in the air. Hope could easily have been the theme for this year's gathering. The courthouse was being visited today by the Governor himself. He was to speak about the New Deal program and what it meant to farmers. This was a farming community and what he had to say would be important to everyone in the county. The band played "Happy Days Are Here Again" as the Governor approached the microphone. He spoke very succinctly: "Farmers are important to this country if we are ever to get out of this mess. The President has authorized a new program which will provide assistance to farmers in this county." The Governor proceeded to tell the audience about yet another bureaucratic program that was sure to cure the farmer's ills. The audience responded with polite applause. They had hoped the news would be about new farm markets instead of another program designed to enlarge government. Mr. Jackson, a local farmer, summed it up best: "Looks like we are going to have to build another courthouse, because this one is already filled with government agencies." Even the disappointing speech by the Governor failed to dampen the celebration. The traditional parade was already beginning to form. The courthouse was a fitting monument to the spirit of the people there. A new coat of paint would soon be doused on the economy. At least that seemed to be the pervading view of this small farming community.

“Cantaloupes and watermelons for sale," shouted a teenaged lad. This was a familiar cry in this part of the country. The area’s watermelons and cantaloupes were considered the finest within a twelve-county radius. Today, local residents could dine for free on these tasty treats. The annual celebration, as always, had its share of long-winded speakers. Another monument was being dedicated. This one was to honor those brave soldiers who had fought and died in World War II. The war had been over for four years. The beauty pageant was just getting under way. The mayor had successfully fought to have the winner represent the county in the state beauty contest for the first time. Cars were blocking the parade route and had to be removed by an accommodating tow truck. The courthouse, for the first time, began to resemble an aging landmark. Surrounding structures were springing up everywhere. Some former tenants of the courthouse had moved across town to another location. There was talk of constructing a new building to take its place. Progress had come to this area. People in New York may soon be eating those famous watermelons and cantaloupes. The celebration continued with the courthouse oblivious to all these changes.

It was 1968 and some area residents felt the annual celebration should be postponed. The Vietnam War had stirred a great deal of controversy between the old and young in the community. Families were torn apart by their divergent views. How could an Independence Day celebration be of any meaningful value in such an atmosphere? One of the local politicians sensed that something was needed to charge up this event. He invited one of the more controversial presidential candidates to speak. This candidate's radical views were known widely throughout the country. While his candidacy was anything but serious, his ideas were further fueling an already divided nation. An elevated stage was constructed at the entrance of the courthouse in accordance with the speaker's wishes. The candidate was introduced to the overflowing crowd. "I plan to make this country stronger by winning this war," assured the confidant speaker. "The rights of the working man will be uppermost in my mind when I'm your President. No long-haired hippie radical or whining member of some minority group will have a voice in my administration." A hissing chorus of boos and catcalls poured forth from the crowd. The speaker looked ominously at the distracted mob. With a menacing smile, he said: "When I'm elected President, I will come back to this area and hang all of you anarchists." A hush fell over the audience and they listened to the rest of the speech in almost total silence. The candidate finished and the mayor asked if anyone else had an opposing view. The first speaker was adorned with metals from both World War II and the Korean War. He spoke almost in a whisper: "I may not agree with all of the protest against the war and other issues in our country, but I will defend any American's right to speak out." A thundering applause could be heard as the speaker stepped down from the platform. A young man with shoulder length hair and protruding beard spoke next. "Today, I have heard what America is all about. It is not about stifling opposing viewpoints and beliefs, but about the importance of everyone being allowed to think what they want without being afraid of reprisals." The day was filled with countless other such testimonials. A marching band joined a solitary guitar player for a most unusual version of "America the Beautiful.” A new generation of sounds echoed off the old courthouse until the break of dawn.

The theme of the 1986 celebration was: "SAVE THE OLD COURTHOUSE.” A new county building had finally been built in 1985 and most of the former courthouse occupants had moved out. There had been talk for over forty years of what would become of the courthouse if a new building took its place. Now, the community was faced with the problem of either leveling the beloved structure or finding another use for it. Committees were forming to raise money to maintain the old building and to determine some meaningful ways to make use of its heritage. The once proud steeple was in need of repair. The huge clock had not worked in over three years. This faithful friend to the community was dying a slow death from decay and neglect. If the ornate structure was to see many more Independence Day celebrations, it must have a helping hand. The community had totally mobilized all efforts to see that this old friend would be around for a long time. This year's festivities were centered on the courthouse, much like the first celebration back in 1886. It was time to pay homage to a dear friend.

We are now celebrating Independence Day in the present. The courthouse has had a new steeple since 2000. The tower clock now proudly chimes again. Housed in the courthouse is a new generation of occupants ranging from artists to gourmet cooks. Visitors come from miles around just to admire its renewed beauty. No one can remember when the community was without this magnificent structure. It has been the meeting place for many important events. It has been a stabilizing force for the people in this area. The courthouse stands as a beacon of the past, ready to make many more contributions to this community's heritage.

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For some, writing is a way of life. For Madisonville resident Mike Barton, it’s also a part-time job and a leisurely love affair. Along with authoring five insightfully written business books, which includes Recognition at WorkBuilding a Fundamentally Sound Corporate Compliance Program, and Incentive Pay: Creating a Competitive Advantage, as well as numerous published articles and short pieces, Mike holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Evansville. And while Mike’s in-depth sense of business know-how has led him to employment as a teacher/professor, an HR Administrator with Baptist Health Madisonville, and a talented lecturer, he says that he simply loves to write. Period. In turn, the Sugg Street Post recently got in touch with Mike and found that he was interested in submitting some of his works to our website. Of course, we were happy to oblige.

 

Sugg Street Post
Written by Mike Barton
Photo by Jeff Harp

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