Vinyl Vlog 493

Vinyl Vlog 493

Saturday, 27 March 2021
‘Nine’ from Hum by Alain Johannes.

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Hum LP by Alain Johannes. It’s about time guitarist, songwriter, producer and engineer Alain Johannes got around to releasing another solo album (his solo debut, Spark, came out in 2010 and his sophomore album, Fragments and Wholes vol 1 came out in 2014 – so he’s due). Johannes’ career in the music business actually began in 1984 (with What Is This, the band he started with former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons), but he has spent more time contributing his considerable talents to other people’s outlets. Most recently, Johannes has found himself associated with the artistic collective that has centered around Josh Homme and yielded such bands as Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal – which has been based in the Palm Desert. In listening to Hum, Johannes illustrates that he does better than just fit in with with that scene, he has played a pivotal role in it.

As soon as needle catches groove in the A-side of Hum and “Mermaids Scream” opens it, listeners are dared to join Johannes on his trip into the unknown. There, the singer unfolds a lonely vocal melody (which sounds eerily like it could parallel something on a Queens of the Stone Age album) over an exotic-sounding overture which attempts to cast a spell over listeners – and it works, to a degree. Discussions of salvaging dreams and feeling lost inspire images of being lost at sea and being a castaway on a deserted island in this cut, which gets echoed perfectly by Johannes’ vocal. After two minutes, listeners of the right disposition will find that they’re ready to follow the singer wherever he’s planning to lead them – and after continuing into the realm of the unknown a little further with the album’s title track, Johannes throws a dramatic curve which still nails a fantastic strike with “Hallowed Bones.”

Now, just saying that “Hallowed Bones” is a dramatic and complicated undertaking doesn’t exactly give the song the credit that it deserves. Yes, the cut takes a page from the chapter of the Big Book of Classic Rock Songwriting that Led Zeppelin authored, as it incorporates aspects of East Indian composition and performance – but it also strips the bombastic rock showmanship which is usually attached to it (think Zep or The Tea Party) off and inserts an alt-rock discipline similar to that of Queens of the Stone Age into the spaces which were left to make a sound which definitely has a sense of history, but doesn’t sound quite like anything that has come before. Listeners will find themselves perfectly captivated by the sound as they try to figure out exactly what it is and, when it finally does close at the three and a half-minute mark, they’ll still be held, hypnotized; it was an understated spell, but definitely one well cast by Johannes, indeed.

After “Hallowed Bones,” Johannes downshifts a gear into the lonely, introspective and acoustic plaint of “Someone” before blowing the doors off the motherfucking side with the drone-y and inevitable-sounding “If Morning Comes,” and then returns to the dramatic, arpegiated and acoustic gentility first plotted earlier on the A-side with “Free.”

Now, to be fair, “Free” does not represent a new idea in classic rock at all. In fact, the delicacy and contrived hesitance and breathlessness which characterizes the song is strikingly similar to Zeppelin’s “Battle Of Evermore,” but with better melodies and a greater emphasis on personal reflection than outward showmanship. That idea the song is a personal movement – introspective for Johannes’ own sake and only caught on tape at the right moment – really wins listeners because it feels as though this beauty has been included for listeners to steal from the artist; he has included the song for them to hear, but it is HIS and it feels like the end of a complete statement. That it also closes the side will leave listeners refreshed and ready for more when they flip the album and reset the stylus for the B-side.

…And as soon as listeners flip the record over and set the B-side spinning, the deep throb which resonates from the acoustic guitar that drives “Sealed” sets a deep and dark tone. There, the flecks which have always sort of existed in an implied manner to Desert Rock bands like Meat Puppets, Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal become totally inescapable and unavoidable but, rather than being off-putting, listeners will find themselves rushing headlong toward the sound; the sinewy arrangement, hazy vocal delivery and the dark undertones which run through the whole song are absolutely spectacular. That darkness lightens only slightly after “Sealed” lets out and a dusty cigfiddle plays a melancholy rhythm for “Here In The Silence” but, rather than letting the side succumb ti its own self-indulgent sadness, a well-programmed beat and a very warm melody manifest with “Nine,” which really stands out as unique in the album as a whole because there is a brightness about it which is not achieved anywhere else, and the squirrelly guitar solo which appears about three minutes into the song really needs to be heard to be believed. It might sound bizarre in print, but the weird little solo is of a sort that no one expects before they hear it but want to hear it everywhere after the first time.

After “Nine,” listeners will have to make an effort to not feel cheated that only “Finis”remains before the album’s close. There, Johannes keeps his cigfiddle pushing a 3/4 time lament which feels gothic and gloriously grey, but there is also a sort of statuesque grandeur about it which leaves listeners feeling filled up and enchanted, in the end. It’s not necessarily the end that listeners wanted or expected after they’ve run front-to-back with Hum, but that might be one of the best things about it; in an album crammed with decisions that no one expected, the last thing present is a cut which doesn’t play in a manner that conventional wisdom dictates should close this album – but that it does (and does so in such a satisfying way) is just an excellent way to close.

In the end, taking the album as a whole, those who run front-to-back with Hum will have no choice but to admit that they’ve never heard anything quite like it before, in spite of recognizing some things about it. In fact, after going through it the first time, they’ll feel like they need to do it again – so they can have another chance to know and understand it. There’s no doubt that Hum is a complicated record, but it rewards as well as it confounds, and leaves listeners wanting to take the trip again in the end as well as hungry for more [Bill Adams]


Hum is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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