This has been a notable year for veteran artists dropping excellent albums with barely any notice. Fiona Apple pushed up the release of her boldest album yet, X brought the band back together for their first album in 27 years, and now Hum have returned after a couple decades to spawn a tempest in the indie scene. While I’m technically a ’90s kid, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the decade’s fecund musical tendencies; my ’90s soundtrack was dominated by Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins. Exploring the decade’s rock output has been a rewarding quest in my adult years, and if Inlet is any indication, then I need to make Hum’s back catalog my next expedition.
The immediate, universal acclaim for Inlet has been incredible to watch. Inlet has already outranked Hum’s previous albums on Rate Your Music just a week after its surprise release on Bandcamp, and it’s quickly climbing up the platform’s top albums from 2020 chart (#13 overall, #5 for rock, and #1 for shoegaze as of July 1). While the indie blogosphere has a storied relationship with hype, the reaction to Inlet is warranted. Across the album’s 55-minute run time, the band’s unique brand of shoegaze will engulf your senses and make you feel weightless.
Yet, what I love most about Inlet is how effectively it carves a unique mark in the shoegaze blueprint. Sure, the dreamy, feedback-laden guitars on “Waves” and onward immediately prompts a comparison to My Bloody Valentine et al. But the full extent of Hum’s sound has so much more depth worth exploring, with elements of alt-rock, post-hardcore, and space rock that remind me of genre peers like Cave In and Spiritualized. The resulting blend of styles strikes a potent balance between each of these genres’ strengths, with bold, driving riffs accented by glorious melodic atmospheres. It’s truly a “best of both worlds” kind of album: fans of shoegaze haze and crunching, heavy riffs will both find a great deal to love.
“In the Den” perfectly encapsulates this approach. The heavy fuzz of the guitars could pass as progressive sludge riffs with a few tweaks, yet the all-encompassing hooks that soar overhead help establish a grandiose, uplifting vibe. Later on, “The Summoning” legitimately sounds like the band are flirting with a second act as a doom band, with a plodding beat and slow, massive riffs. The guitar accents are a bit more psychedelic throughout, taking on elements of desert rock that fit in beautifully with the band’s existing sound.
Not only does “Desert Rambler” succeed in a similar way, it also introduces the band’s affinity for significantly extending their formula. It’s the first of multiple 8+ minute tracks on Inlet, and while that might seem like a bit much for such an ethereal genre, Hum fill each track with worthwhile ideas that warrant listeners’ attention. Like the album’s subsequent epics, “Desert Rambler” takes a page from the post-rock playbook and leans on the efficacy of dynamics. The guitars’ post-quiet punch hits harder than your average crescendo, and the song’s pensive moments showcase a different side of the band’s songwriting strengths that work equally well.
Hum prove they can write proper rock songs deeper in the track list. “Step Into You” has the pace and catchiness of a classic ’90s alt-rock hit, filtered through the band’s signature melodic lens. The guitar solo on the latter half of the track offers an incredible hook that I occasionally found myself replaying again and again before realizing the latter half of the album awaited me. “Cloud City” is another vintage alt-rock jam that pulls more prominently from the band’s shoegaze roots, which help the guitar melodies pop more prominently.
“Folding” and “Shapeshifter” close out the album with a gorgeous finale. The progression on “Folding” is particularly impressive, shifting from Hum’s most overtly melodic riffs into an extended, hypnotic ambient passage. Meanwhile, “Shapeshifter” leans into the post-rock stylings Hum touched on earlier on in the track list, with a serene conclusion that rounds out the album on a blissful note.
Whatever prompted Hum to name their comeback album Inlet, it’s an apt label that will indeed serve as a means of entry to the band’s discography for a new generation of listeners. In the 22 years since their last album, Hum have clearly refined their sound to strike an ideal balance between their roots and modern rock sensibilities. The resulting collection of songs is both a love letter to ’90s rock traditions and an innovative blend of several adjacent subgenres and how they’ve evolved concurrently over time. If you’re new to Hum like I was, Inlet is a perfect excuse to remedy that oversight; you’ll likely find one of your favorite rock releases of 2020 in the process.
Inlet is available now via Polyvinyl Records.