Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Humming Along

Monument to No One
Monument to No One

Done in by an indifferent major label before their time, Hum were one of those Midwestern 90's bands whose memory survives to this day due to a small but rabid initial fanbase. Listening to the first track of Monument to No One's debut LP, "Planetary," it's nice to be reminded that those cherished Champaign sounds are venerated by more than just the close-knit group that constituted the Hum Mailing List back in the days when e-mail communities served the function Twitter and Facebook do now. The drop-D guitars playing complex chord voicings, three-note deadpan vocals, clean-channel guitars overdriven through old-school amps... these are good sounds.

But having only one influence would grow rather dreary. Although "Mountaineer" and "Officer Hardass" continue to exhibit a Matt Talbott fixation, vocalist Eli Slate has more tricks up his sleeve. The higher-register, adenoidal attack on "Blasting Sound" is a welcome shot of obnoxious rock attitude into the loud-but-subtle approach of the guitars. As a group, Monument to No One show excellent instincts towards harnessing their guitar chops to the larger goals of their songs; both Slate and Steve Anderson can rip it up but even during the conventional solo sections the emphasis is on the band's playing as a group rather than putting a spotlight on a single player.

Bassist Mike McKinnon's equally skilled approach is another effective element in distinguishing Monument to No One from their inspirations. He's capable of pulling out high-register flashy stuff when there's space in the song for it, but when the guitarists are churning, his parts provide the shape and support required. "Don't Tase Me, Bro" is particularly bass-driven, a welcome instrumental break from the intensity surrounding it in the middle of the album.

The drums, however, are an issue. They're half a beat behind more often than not (except, strangely, when the band plays in 6/8) and the badly-recorded cymbals are cutting out in the high end throughout and making listening to the record way more of an unpleasant chore than it ought to be. Through speakers or headphones, turning the recording up loudly enough to hear the bass properly results in a headache from the overloud, piercing cymbal sound. Hard to say whether this is the fault of the limited-budget recording or if Monument to No One are just following Downward -- Hum's drummer wasn't much of a player either.

1 comment:

  1. Since I wrote this I've gotten a physical copy of MTNO's CD and as such I thought I should mention that Jesse Slate played bass on "Don't Tase Me, Bro." Slate has a more jagged, trebly style than McKinnon and it's interesting going back to the record having seen them live and contemplating how the band is reshaping to suit the new lineup.