2013-12-20

Music As Art: Hum

Sometime in 1995, I started hearing a song called "Stars" on the radio. The vocals were not to my liking, but the composition of the piece, the guitar work, the combination of sounds, and so on, were unlike anything I'd ever heard before. It was a bit like Failure, but somehow heavier. It used to come on close to the time I'd settle into bed and start to fall asleep with the radio playing softly.

In time, the radio stations stopped playing "Stars," and I sort of forgot about it. Then, early in 2003, I auditioned for a band in Salt Lake City who was looking for someone who was influenced by Failure and Hum. Failure's Fantastic Planet was - and is - one of my all-time favorite albums, so I jumped at the opportunity. I had what I thought was an excellent audition, but ultimately the band didn't like me. It was really too bad. I would have been exactly what they needed.

Over the course of eight years, Hum's third album, You'd Prefer An Astronaut, went from being mildly popular post-grunge alternative filler to being one of the most influential records in the "indie," or "alternative," or whatever-they-call-it-now music genre. Chino Moreno said it was a major influence on The Deftones and rated it one of his all-time favorite albums. Hum's sound combined a certain heaviness with a certain softness, which is a description that should resonate with Deftones fans. But beyond that one point of influence, Hum fans spread across the full "indie" music spectrum. The moody, tweedy, acoustic crooners appreciate Hum's attention to tonal combinations. The heavy modern alt-rockers - the guys you hear on Sirius XM's "Octane" channel, for example - love Hum's appreciably brutal guitar riffing and impeccable sense of groove. The gen-Xers can put on a Hum album while they're brooding, while the gen-Yers can listen to a Hum playlist while riding their fixies down Yonge.

Impossibly, Hum created a sound that resonates with almost everyone. Kids a decade or more younger than me know Hum; people ten years my senior are well familiar with their back catalog. And yet, incredibly, Hum never sold many records, broke up almost 15 years ago, and is mostly just active on the obscure-band-reunion-show circuit.

Still, I am confident that when music history finally comes to terms with all the crap we musicians have been putting out since about 1999 or so, and the art world finally has its reckoning day and decides to make amends for selling out so totally, so completely, so cheaply, that most people can't even post a ukulele cover of a Lina Santiago tune without OMG monetizing it! Hum will be written into the same chapter of the history books as King's X, The Velvet Underground, Green River, and Kate Bush as artists that never attained a level of fame that did justice to their degree of influence on the medium.