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Humming Along with Humdrum

Originally published in The Current

Antarctica, a new venue on south Gravois, is an old, snow-white building with no names, no flyers. Just white painted brick and a white painted door. I pulled up to the curb and parked, having driven 4 blocks past it before I realized it was in the opposite direction. If you blink, you might miss it.

I was there to see St. Louis rock-quartet HUMDRUM. Upon arriving and seeing a handful of stragglers standing around the door, I began to wonder if there was some kind of secret handshake to even get inside. Upon further conversation, I find out the truth: a lapse in paying the electric bill. The band was sitting outside in the cold because there were no lights. Just a terribly big nothing. I determine they must have been sitting for some time because their pepperoni pizza had just arrived and they began devouring it intently. They were waiting for the owner to return and install a generator. After waiting roughly an hour, one was properly installed and connected to the stage lights, amplifiers and instruments, leaving the rest of the club an ice-box Caravaggio. But, somehow, nothing was lost.

The only light came from the stage-lights propped towards the band, casting their gargantuan shadows dancing on the walls behind them. In fact, it was almost like actually being near the South Pole. Cold, very dark. It gave the club a very mysterious, lonely atmosphere. It’s dark there too six months of the year and I was so smitten by the romance and magic of the circumstances, that I suggested to the owner he should keep it just this way. At the very least, it would save on electricity.

When the band was finally set up, juiced with power and pizza, plugged-in and tuned-in, they started their first song. They didn’t even need the generator. HUMDRUM generates their own electricity, their own current. Their much larger, shadowy-counterparts looming behind them, a void simply needing to be filled.

Though the name implies something dull and insipid, the band is anything but. The quartet borrows largely from THE SHINS, that kind of floaty, effervescent pop that shines the shoes and tips the service. The acoustics were unreal. Nothing but a garage style room with cement walls and floor and curious fold down rows of stadium seating lining the perimeter of the floor beneath the stage.

The members have long-toiled the music scenes of St. Louis and they have enough experience to pull this off. And yet, they seem unconfident on stage, never feeling their own worth until middle of the set. Mic beats furiously at the drums. Phil pounds keys. There’s nothing like it. They appreciate the ethics of keeping voice a major structure to the song. But more than this, I’m reminded of The Beach Boys. Indie flare, acrobatic vocals and infectious melodies, talking about psychedelic, out-of-body experiences, relationships with the mystical, and questioning unreasonable heights. Grandchildren of Brian Wilson. It’s indie-pop at its finest.

HUMDRUM is already floating in space. Their self-released CD “Invisible Man,” was recorded by Ryan Wasoba, chief dynamo of SO MANY DYNAMOS. You’ve got to hand it to him. The kid knows what he’s doing. The mix is definitely in the right place, but needs drum levels to be thicker, louder. So much of the sound is ethereal, space-chords and floating harmonies, the drums are the band’s only anchor. “Kaleidoscope”is by far the best track, both musically and lyrically: “The sad song you can’t stop singing/I am the ringing in your ears.” No kidding. Track 9 “I’m In Love With a Mermaid” tap-dances into the realm of SPOON, but guitarist Paul Maguire soft steps lyrics. The fifth song is in dangerous territory of driving into the oncoming traffic that is WEEZER. The melody isn’t interesting, the lyrics mundane. I would advise they stick to their own voice and spare us the lyrical platitudes; that’s what Rivers Cuomo is for. For having no electricity and being in deep South St. Louis, there were a number of people digging it, smiling, tapping their shoes, humming along. I was one of them. You will be soon.

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