Hum are doing pretty well for a band that’s technically been broken up since the year 2000. A name drop from Pitchfork, steadily increasing interest on Last.fm and Pandora and a song in a certain car commercial seems closer to the kind of press Real Estate or Sleigh Bells have been getting lately than that of a semi-famous band from Illinois that hasn’t consistently recorded or toured since 1998. Whether or not these things are a sign of Hum’s cult status growing, you can’t deny the massive shadow and influence they continue to exert over Champaign-Urbana to this day.
I suppose that for those of you who missed the 90s, a historical recap would be in order at this point. I’ll simply say that the band was active from 1989 – 2000 and consisted of Matt Talbott (guitar/vocals), Tim Lash (guitar), Jeff Dimpsey (bass) and Bryan St. Pere (drums). Arguably the biggest thing to come out of C-U in the 90s, they released three albums — Electra 2000 (1993), You’d Prefer an Astronaut (1995) and Downward is Heavenward (1998) — four if you count the bastard stepchild of the discography that is Fillet Show (1991).
For those unfamiliar, the best place to start with Hum is undisputedly You’d Prefer an Astronaut — a militant minority of people will insist that Downward is Heavenward is superior, but it isn’t. Home to their biggest radio hit “Stars” and quintessential songs such as “Little Dipper” and “I’d Like Your Hair Long”, YPAA is the perfect soundtrack to Champaign-Urbana at night. The deceptively energetic rhythm section, Talbott’s stoner-gaze vocals bursting out over the massive wall of guitars — it all sounds flat out amazing during a lengthy, meandering and possibly baked car ride around the twin cities — I’m sure some of the people reading this have taken one, and if you haven’t, you missed out.
Pot aside, Hum are easily the largest of the many figures towering over the history and shape of the local scene, and if their show at Champaign Music Festival is anywhere near as good as last time they played in town back in 2008, it won’t be one to miss. There’s even been hearsay that they played the uber-rarity “Hello Kitty” at their Millennium Park show in May.
However, Hum have been officially broken up for ten years now, and life must go on. While Tim Lash’s band Glifted or Dimpsey’s National Skyline have probably the most critical acclaim of the various post-Hum projects, they’re both significant departures from the Hum sound. Centaur — Matt Talbot’s current project — comes closest to recapturing the original spirit of Hum, while mixing in a healthy dose of post-rock as well. The end result is something like listening to “I Hate it Too” while swimming in maple syrup, which is actually a lot more fun than it seems (I promise). You’d do well to check out their album In Streams, along with Glifted’s Under and In and National Skyline’s This = Everything. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Centaur are one of the loudest things I’ve ever heard? I’ve had my entire body shaken by a sound only twice in my life: Centaur and My Bloody Valentine. You might want some earplugs for this one.
Ultimately, I think Hum’s meaning to me comes down to a simple evocation. When we listen to music, we tend to tie the songs to a temporality, whether it be the time you danced to a song at your wedding or hearing Gimme Shelter used in the Departed. However, when I listen to Hum, I think of Carle Park, Cafe Kopi and hell, even the News-Gazette. In short, the band is Champaign-Urbana.
Hum perform at the Champaign Music Festival (Neil St. Stage) on Saturday, July 10th along with Lonely Trailer, Duke of Uke, Beat Kitchen and many others. Hum are on at 9 p.m. and the show is free.
Centaur perform at Mike & Molly’s on Saturday, July 3rd with New Ruins and Peace Beach. The show starts between 8 and 9 p.m. and carries a $5 cover.