More human than Human
Comprised of singer Toyah Willcox and bass players Bill Rieflin and Chris Wong, The Humans are a surprising group who combine waves of acid jazz, Massive Attack-like grooves and the occasional burst of ’80s pop and early ’90s industrial. It adds up to a mixed bag of tricks on their second album Sugar Rush, but still one worth a listen.
The album opens with “Titanium Girl” via a disjointed vocal “wah wah” effect before the ethereal voice of Willcox dances above it. Then it is slammed with a driving bassline and deep, guttural guitar pulses. After that, “Love in a Different Way” is a quiet, strummed track with a slightly ’80s feel thanks to the breathy vocals and synth. The same retro feeling is found in “Small Town Psychopath,” which mixes pure jazz club with a overdrawn beginning, as well as in “Sweet Agitation.” It seems with The Humans, the more subdued the song, the more it sounds like it would have been played in a late ’80s film.
But there’s a rock side to it all too. In the infectious “Sea of Size,“ Willcox channels Alison Mosshart against building reverb and the feeling that you’re running out of time while “Put a Woman on the Moon” could have been found on Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine , if Reznor had a duet with Kim Carnes. “Pebble” has a moody, groovy vibe reminiscent of Portishead, especially when the string section and bass line mingle with the airy falsetto.
Sugar Rush is a very interesting take on experimental music. It’s a lot more mellow and low-key than you’d think, which can be its downfall at times. Many of the songs melded into each other without standing apart. This isn’t a bad thing if you’re looking for easy listening with a twist but it felt like an extra dose of edginess would have been welcome. After all, it’s the tracks where Willcox’s distinctive angelic voice and the grinding, noisy guitar and bass combine that makes The Humans a band unlike any other. Hopefully we’ll have more of that on the next one.