Hum’s reunion album ‘Inlet’ cements their legacy further than ever before – review
Often times, a reunion album reminds you why you fell in love with a band in the first place, proves they've still got it, and helps re-establish the band as a force within an era that they had long been absent from. But in rarer cases, a reunion album cements a band's legacy further than ever before, closing a book you might not have realized had been left open. Inlet, Hum's first album in 22 years, is the latter.
Hum had a fluke hit in the mid '90s ("Stars" from their 1995 major label debut You'd Prefer An Astronaut), then released the more experimental followup album Downward Is Heavenward in 1998, and then broke up before Downward Is Heavenward could really make a dent. If you weren't paying close enough attention, they might've seemed like an alt-rock one hit wonder who fell apart after failing to produce a second hit, but their unique blend of alternative rock, post-hardcore, shoegaze, space rock, emo, and metal proved to be highly influential. Their most famous fans were the Deftones, who borrowed the heavy, atmospheric sound of Downward Is Heavenward on their now-classic White Pony in 2000, and Deftones continued to sing Hum's praises, turning their music on to new generations even while the band remained in hibernation. On a smaller scale, Hum impacted post-hardcore bands like Hopesfall, who tapped Matt Talbott to produce and sing on their 2002 breakthrough album The Satellite Years, which in turn became an ahead-of-its-time album that aided in the eventual merger of post-hardcore and shoegaze. By the 2010s, that merger was complete and a whole slew of bands -- including Nothing, Title Fight, Cloakroom, and Superheaven, newer acts like Higher Power and Greet Death, and many others -- started to formulate a subgenre that could really just be called "sounds like Hum." Hum themselves reunited for live shows around this time (sometimes taking younger bands like Touche Amore and Nothing under their wings, sometimes sharing bills with likeminded '90s bands like Failure and Mineral), but they were still a band whose biggest claim to fame seemed to be how "influential" they were. Your favorite band's favorite band, but not fully accepted as the legends that many of their fans knew them to be.
Just three or four hours into Inlet's existence, it already felt like this had changed. Inlet is the followup album that Downward Is Heavenward never got. It has all the makings of a trademark Hum album, but it never sounds like a rehash of the band's previous albums and it pushes their sound in new directions left and right. It would've rivaled White Pony if Hum didn't break up and this came out in 2000, but despite its many '90s touchstones, it sounds much more like 2020 than 2000. This type of heavy shoegaze/alt-rock is arguably more prevalent now than it was in the '90s, thanks to Hum's influence, and as good as many of Hum's followers are, Inlet is the album that this distinct subgenre needed. Hum were ahead of their time, and it's as if they needed the world to catch up with them before they could release what may turn out to be their masterpiece.
Inlet is more overtly shoegaze than any of Hum's '90s albums were, which makes sense. Shoegaze has stayed consistently fashionable while the more alternative rock elements of Hum's music sound a little more dated to the '90s, and there's nothing dated about Inlet. The production is clean and massive but never over-polished, and it really allows for Hum to open up their sound more than ever before. Inlet has the longest songs the band ever wrote (four of its eight songs are over eight minutes and one reaches nine), and Hum take full advantage of the extra breathing room. The album never drags, there's never a moment you could call filler. They make the best of the more meditative parts, and when they want to work in a soaring, stadium-sized melody or a metallic chug or a punchy, catchy, potential-hit like "Step Into You," they do that masterfully.
Inlet also sounds like a more complete fusion of Hum's various moods and ingredients than any of its predecessors. It's as dark as it is bright, as melancholic as it is uplifting, as psychedelic as it is sobering. There's some clear My Bloody Valentine worship in those gliding, swirling guitars, and it's weaved right in to the heavier, thicker chords in a more seamless way than Hum ever have before. They also look beyond the "shoegaze + heavy" formula that a lot of bands in this realm get too caught up in, or at least find unique ways to toy with it. Parts of the nine-minute "Desert Rambler" sound like Revolver-era Beatles trying their hands at sludge metal, while "The Summoning" imagines some alternate history where early '70s Black Sabbath flirted with dream pop. And as much as Inlet's emphasis is on layers of guitars and hypnotic atmosphere, Matt Talbott still brings a pop structure to his singing and songwriting that gives these songs the substance to go with Hum's oft-imitated style. His voice has matured into something that's a little more subdued than it was in the '90s, but which sounds wiser and more controlled. He brings an emotional gut-punch to these songs that you can't achieve just by buying a bunch of reverb and distortion pedals.
Inlet has elements of familiarity and nostalgia, but Hum still sound like the future, just like they did in 1998. It won't be surprising if, once again, we see other bands desperate to play catch-up.