Crosschecking end of year lists fascinates me. The album that shows up on most lists that I've trawled in thus far is Ulcerate's superb Stare into Death and Be Still. It made three top tens and one top five, as well as getting a highly recommended 8/10 from me, but nobody yet has listed it as their Album of the Year. Of the fifteen lists I'm looking at, nothing tops more than one. Two 2019 albums topped a pair of lists—Blood Incantation and Wilderun—and, in 2018, Yob topped four. So far, I've only reviewed four #1s from 2020, so I have catchup to do. Let's start with Hum's Inlet, which made four lists and was Andrew Sacher's Album of the Year at Invisible Oranges.
Hum are an alternative rock band from Champaign, IL whose four shoegaze albums in the nineties had a lot of other bands paying attention, not least the Deftones, whose 2020 album Ohms made five lists. However, they've done very little since, splitting up in 2000, reuniting for a one-off festival, reuniting fully in 2011 and playing a few odd gigs here and there. So when they dropped a fifth album with zero warning in June, it took everyone aback.
And it took me a while to figure this out, so I do wonder how much of the praise is just gratitude that an important band to many simply released new material for the first time in twenty-two years. Sure, I have almost no grounding in shoegaze, though I'm enjoying one of its successors, blackgaze, through bands like Alcest. I think my initial problem was in reconciling the heavy backdrop, which is more of a texture than a musical accompaniment, with the relentlessly slow drums and the clean but apparently only mildly interested vocals. It feels like it wants to crush but just can't be bothered.
I still can't get into the opener, Waves, but In the Den found me more receptive and the nine minutes of Desert Rambler got me on board. The former features a subtle and almost trancelike riff, a livelier voice that appears to have something to say and keyboards swirling around everything. It's like Gary Numan, covered by a band who don't want a hit single. For a quintessentially nineties band, it seemed very eighties to me, rooted in the New Romantic era but with all the fashion and other accoutrements ripped away and played in a garage at half speed.
All that stands for Desert Rambler but doubled because it's slower and the heaviness sometimes takes a break so that the guitar that's been chiming in over the wall of sound can get a word in edgeways. It feels like a weird hybrid of David Bowie, Joy Division and the Swans, but with that Gary Numan vibe a constant in the voice of Matt Talbott. Hum are clearly one of those bands who will go down in history as more influential to other musicians than regular people on the street. I think you need to be in the right mindspace to enjoy their music too but, once you find it, they can really trawl you in.
They seem to be very good at what they do, but what they do seems to not be for me. There are points where this caught my attention but I found myself drifting away from it often, to the degree that the song I thought I was listening to was over ten minutes earlier and I was two further into the album. Is it bad for losing me? Not necessarily, but if Hum see their job as conjuring up a soundscape the way a post-rock band does, then it's pretty important to make that soundscape evocative enough to drag us in and immersive enough to keep us. This apparently does that for some people, but not me.