That sound you hear? It might just be the synchronised thunk of ten thousand jaws hitting the floor. ‘Inlet’ is the first Hum album in more than two decades you see. And it has come out of absolutely nowhere.
This doesn’t even fit the modern definition of a ‘surprise release’. There was zero build-up here- no teases, no winks, no nods. In 2016 (practically a lifetime ago these days) the Illinois outfit hinted that they might, maybe, one day write new material but there was no more recent suggestion that anything was progressing, let alone finished. Instead, the band sent one midweek tweet, “Hum is happy to announce the release of our new album, Inlet.”, added the record to your streaming service of choice, and sat back. Their subsequent marketing strategy has amounted to little more than a contented shrug.
That’s all incredibly on brand of course. From 1991 to 1998, Hum- the quartet of Matt Talbott, Tim Lash, Jeff Dimpsey, and Bryan St. Pere- released four albums of increasingly spellbinding quality and while they flirted with major labels and even had a ‘moderate’ hit single, they never really played the industry game. They recorded a cover of a Police song for a movie soundtrack and said “whatever” to their music being used on commercials, but also inexplicably dressed up like animals on TV, never diluted their sound, and produced their most challenging album just when something palatable might have made them millionaires. They split in 2000, but, despite almost complete radio silence, their legend has only grown since.
‘Inlet’ isn’t burdened by its significance. It’s a heavy record but it’s never weighed down by history or legacy or expectation. It has every sonic element fans might expect- slow-motion afterburner distortion, dense, complex arrangements, Talbott’s steady, almost-disconnected vocals- and more. But, unlike some other recent rock comeback records, it also maintains the magic, mysterious ingredients that made its makers special in the first place. It sounds like Hum, sure, but it feels like Hum too.
Opener, ‘Waves’ is so good to hear. A ten-ton comfort blanket. It combines rippling, uplifting, stardust melodies and warm, grungy, quicksand rhythms while Talbott conjures images worthy of a band considered space rock pioneers (“The sunlight drips from the trees and forms in pools”). ‘In the Den’ double times a stoner riff into lift-off, and the relatively light and lithe ‘Step Into You’ is the most likely candidate for another ‘moderate’ hit.
Hum might even get accused of playing safe here- it wouldn’t be wholly surprising if they revealed these songs were recorded at the turn of the century and kept on ice until now- but they haven’t just picked off where they left off. Instead they’ve explored and expanded every facet of their fluid sound and seem to have found the most joy in the loudest, heaviest (but never aggressive), and perhaps least digestible corners. They aren’t afraid to go long here either. Half of the tracks are lengthier than anything the band have done before and although tones and pace shift slowly, the time never drags. The band are known for their meticulous nature but there are little details everywhere here, waiting to be discovered, demanding repeat listens.
‘Inlet’ only gets better as it goes as well. ‘The Summoning’ is a surprisingly, satisfyingly nasty piece of work, perhaps the first Hum song to encourage a headbang, the pulsing finish of ‘Folding’ is fascinating enough to have been extended for another five minutes, and the long, yearning tones of ‘Shapeshifter’, maybe the best song here, are enough to make you bust out crying.
There’s a reason Hum are so content with what they have here then. Oblivious to fashion or trends, focussed solely on the sounds the band wanted to continue to explore, ‘Inlet’ doesn’t just feel like a tidy or timely comeback, it feels like a vital one. It is safe to say that if the first moments of ‘Waves’ don’t strike a chord, none of the following chords will either, but for new listeners willing to take the ride and anyone still picking their jaw up off the floor, Hum have worked wonders here.