Hum: Inlet (Polyvinyl) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, August 10th, 2020  

Hum

Inlet

Polyvinyl

Jul 09, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Hum toured a bit in 2015, began working on new material in 2016, and in 2018 were reported to be finishing up a new album. There was ample warning that Inlet was coming, but long-awaited records like these don’t always materialize as promised. It as unlikely as it is inevitable that Hum’s first album in 22 years should suddenly stroll in like it has. 

Hum’s path in the ’90s was also unlikely and inevitable at different turns. Given how they’ve since attained revered-cult-band status, it’s easy to forget how often “Stars” was on alt rock radio in 1995. Hum’s breakthrough song hit a natural sweet spot between the romantic whimsy of The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” and the dense guitar momentum of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock,” and You’d Prefer an Astronaut sold a quarter of a million copies on the back of it. In early ’98, those radio stations greeted new single “Comin’ Home” with tepid interest, and, in one on-air remark this writer recalls, a comparison to Rush (which likely wouldn’t have bothered the band), which goes to show where expectations were at back then. 

Downward is Heavenward was a significant step forward for Hum, but it sold significantly fewer copies than Astronaut, and downward sales trajectories lose major label interest. Hum became one of those bands that collapsed at the peak of their creative powers. The flickers of reunion over the years since then have been organic, and while we’ll never know what a more immediate follow-up to Downward would have sounded like, Inlet is an immense return that thrives in its unforced space. Recent renewals from similarly dreamy travellers like Slowdive and Ride come to mind; comeback albums that don’t so much return to form as pick up in a familiar but new place. 

In some ways, Inlet is Hum’s most immediate album, while in other ways it is their most oblique. Textural digressions like those on Downward—the acoustic welcome of “If You Are to Bloom” or the flashes of Big Country and Red House Painters in “Ms. Lazarus”—are less pronounced. There’s nothing so overtly melodic or divergent here, but “Step Into You” and “Cloud City” could be singles in their own right, and the twin behemoths that close out Inlet, “Folding” and “Shapeshifter,” both make major dynamic pivots. There is a song-to-song consistency on the album that differs from Astronaut’s no-two-quite-alike approach, but each of these eight tracks plays its role. From Astronaut on, Hum have been very aware of sequencing. 

That intentionality extends to the songwriting. The downtuned riffs that “In the Den” and “Desert Rambler” are built on overshadow the nuances at first, but over repeated listens it comes clear how conscious each chord choice is. There’s no mistaking here that Hum have, a little unexpectedly, fulfilled that most metal of promises (to paraphrase Brandon Stosuy): “Our next album is going to be our heaviest yet.” The first half of “Shapeshifter” is full-on doomgaze, and naming an eight-minute stormer “The Summoning” is really leaning into it. Then again, the mosh pits at Hum shows back in the day were no joke. 

Lyrically, Inlet doesn’t take the flights that Downward does, but also doesn’t dwell in Astronaut’s darker corners; the million ways to feel no pain and the suicide machines built for two. Between songs, or even within the same song, the view shifts from interplanetary roaming to our own natural world, one part Asimov to one part Thoreau. The overall weight of Inlet isn’t out of character, and in a way it can be seen as a channeling of their own sound through some of the bands they have influenced over the years. Hum are now a prime example among the bands from their generation that have made good on unfinished business and shown there are different ways to have longevity in music. (www.h-u-m.net) 

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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