Pleasantly secretive ambition
When people discuss the “album” as an art form, the records that proclaim themselves loudly as “works of art” get the most attention. These days, ambition is less of a quality that can be recognized, and more of a quality that is stated. Alain Johannes’ latest record Hum is what one might call “secretly ambitious.” The record never stands up and screams that it is doing something bold, but the closer one listens, the more it reveals its myriad of influences and stylistic variations, providing a level of intrigue that few albums ever achieve.
On the surface, Johannes has provided people with a record that incorporates slightly unorthodox guitar playing, fairly typical singing, abstract lyrics and somewhat odd drum patterns. That album, generally speaking, is a perfectly fine album on its own. It may not necessarily blow the doors off any folk album people have ever heard, or be distinctive enough to redefine one’s perspective on music as a whole, but it can hold people’s attention. When one digs down, even a little, they will be rewarded for their attentiveness with layers of guitars from eastern cultures, western folk and other under-appreciated genres.
“Hum” and “Hallowed Bones” take more straightforward approaches when it comes to this method of incorporating guitar elements. The former does it through meandering guitar passes driven by soft synths and Johannes’ resonant singing voice. The latter track unleashes far more bombastic guitar rhythms that actually are more reminiscent of something from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s Rito Village.
Later tracks in the album balance out the bombastic approach with softer, even more approachable guitars, but the experimental leanings remain. The end of “If Morning Comes” in particular starts to tip toward the realm of My Bloody Valentine with its whiny guitars and searing feedback. Conversely, “Sealed” is a plodding western-styled song that calls to mind some of Michael Gira’s solo projects. Whatever people’s preferred method of acoustic guitar, rest assured that Johannes has found a way to incorporate it into the record.
Some things just take more patience than others. Hum is the rare record that improves with each subsequent listen rather than souring as people get too close. Though it may be said that the album is this way because it is not particularly attention grabbing, the short run time makes repeated listening easy and engaging, which is more than can be said for plenty of other records.