Endless feedback, a heavenly drone, and an obsession with science and outer space: these three elements perhaps most define the beautiful style that has become the trademark of the unmatchable Hum. Despite a career marked with slight commercial successes, most obviously their 1996 radio hit “Stars,” Hum have never quite been given the full attention and emphasis that they deserve.
Forming in 1989 in the now notorious musical region of metro Illinois, more specifically in Champaign-Urbana, the band released their first album, Fillet Show, on the 12 Inch label created by a friend’s band the Poster Children. This album displays a markedly different style from the feeling they would later create, probably due to the lineup change that would soon follow. Poster Children members Jeff Dimpsey and Tim Lash took up bass and guitar responsibilities respectively, and Hum, in their true form, released their last independent album, Electra 2000, on the band’s own label Martians Go Home. Electra 2000’s somewhat rough production perfectly captured the spacy, other-worldish sound of the band, but their greatest work was yet to come. The band supported the album by touring with such pronounced indie acts as Shellac, the Jesus Lizard, and more well-known ones such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair.
After signing to major label RCA in 1994, Hum released their benchmark album You’d Prefer an Astronaut, eventually selling nearly 250,000 primarily due to their breakthrough radio single “Stars.” Subsequent touring with Bush and the Toadies further pushed the band into somewhat of a spotlight, but due to the short memory of popular music and the lack of understanding of the public to such quirky and heartfelt music, this would be the pinnacle of Hum’s media attention. At this point, Hum had established a strong, somewhat underground and die-hard fan base that realized just how incredible and endless their music was.
Four years passed with mouths watering between the release of their first major-label effort and 1998’s Downward Is Heavenward, as the band took some time off to relax and incubate. This, their fourth and sadly last album, was recorded twice, due to the band’s perfectionist tactics in the studio and their promise that every member must love every part of every song. The wait was well worth the product, as Downward Is Heavenward is one of the most darkly romantic and timeless albums ever created. Hum’s gorgeous, spacy, and limitless sound expand to new lengths; however, those unfamiliar with the band remained so. The album sold poorly, only 38,000 copies in two years, and resulted in RCA’s decision to drop them from their roster. Further misfortune struck as their tour van was destroyed in an accident while touring, essentially pounding the last nail in the coffin. ~ Blake Butler, Rovi