HUMM by Malojian
Hi there. Are you O.K.? Given the current climate it seems a suitable way to open a review of an album that seems to be asking the same; a piece that might just become your best friend through these dark times.
We are all in lockdown and I am sure that like me, you have been trying to find ways to amuse yourself/stay sane. For me social media has been the ‘go-to’ place; listen to music, talk football, chat shit and as a result, have a laugh, and maybe something resembling ‘a life’.
Whilst doing that very thing I chanced upon a tweet from Malojian (Stevie Scullion) informing followers that his latest album was ready for ears. One-click and my coronavirus blues have been banished with the arrival of this quite beautiful record.
Last year I chanced upon Malojian supporting Jason Lytle’s piano tour in Salford U.K. Jason hinted that something more productive than gigs could come of their partnership and HUMM is the fruit of that harvest. Recorded mostly at long distance; once they got to together on these Isles they spent a week of studio time honing the HUMM. Their labour has produced a sublime work of beauty.
And The Thief Came In is an astonishing introduction. The plaintive and soothing melody of the opening blooming and swooning vocal belies the subject matter of the lyrics, which perfectly encapsulate the strange pain and spaced-out numbness in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. However, don’t let that put you off because there is a magisterial, melancholy glory seeping out from the speakers with all the little flourishes of fairy dust and weirdness you might expect from something with Jason Lytle’s involvement.
Jason is not the first member of alt-Americana indie royalty to work with Malojian. Joey Waronker, Gerry Love, John Thorne and Steve Albini have all worked with this highly esteemed artist from Northern Ireland, but Lytle’s input was always going to result in added emotional weight to Malojian’s already thoughtful and introspective muse.
The Cooder-like twangs that swirl in and out of Burns along with the atmospheric hum hovering over it brings to mind Harry Dean Stanton’s endless march across the desert and Burns could almost be a song of comfort during lockdown (“Just keep your head down/They’re coming in/If you feel your spirit waning/Don’t be shy now/Take my hand”). Malojian’s wonderful voice is one of calming reassurance in dire straits.
Tsundoku romps into life on a Bowie/Heroes riff, with “Let the good part overflow” echoing the sentiments and sounds of CCR’s Have you Ever Seen The Rain which is no bad thing as any The Big Lebowski fan might tell you, and exits on a Wretched Songs grungy rumbling guitar outro. It’s fabulous.
Did I mention grunge? Well Walking Away kicks off like it will be, only to be layered over with The Smiths like chiming guitars and then everything and the kitchen sink making for a wonderful stew of, one senses, Malojian’s immaculate influences. The lyrics nudge out clever and thought provoking messages with religious overtones; not explicitly and yet given Stevie’s location it is not much of a leap to think they might hint at the troubles that befell the region from where this music was born.
The grunge link continues with The Golden Age which is a work of genius, sounding from it’s opening, malevolant refrain, both musically and lyrically like a Neil Young epic. Yet it is an EPIC in its own right with dueted vocals bookending two guitar breaks that are both mesmerising and utterly magnificent. The Golden Age stuns and dazzles. Be amazed.
The elegant Chinooks calms everything back down and further illustrates Malojian’s versatility. The attention to detail in the production is a marvel as strange sounds swoop in and out of the ether like a sonic aurora borealis, whilst the swelling crescendos of the final “chinooks are on their way” sees the sound of Coppola ‘copters take the song off with them. More evidence of striking imagery is provided by “governments and the palindromes” whilst hints of youthful and celluloid memories haunt the lines. Pure poetry.
Salt is the kind of light, a lyrical vaudevillian moment that the Beach Boys used to slip onto an album (think Sloop John B/Vegetables/Cool Cool Water) perhaps to add relief to some of Brian Wilson’s darker explorations but it does not sound out of place on HUMM because once again, the tune is a lilting beauty and there is plenty going in the background to keep you enraptured, intrigued and entertained.
Playing with words, Someone K New returns HUMM to the themes thus far ploughed and one suspects the Twin Peaks background melody has Lytle touches, as do the guitars and especially the fourth note in the early guitar break because it’s the note marked HEARTBREAK… and it tugs hard!
The song humm begins with a creak; it could be a chair, maybe a door, but the last time I heard a good old creak like that was on Chore of Enchantment’s Way To End The Day by Jason favourite Giant Sand and links are made; Howe-Jason-Stevie, it’s all starting to make sense, like a baton being passed. Malojian’s voice is an instrument on its own and humm sees him…well, hum in unison with himself and the effect is, well, spiritual. In a further nod to a Gelb; Patsy, not Howe, the sound of presumably one of Stevie’s children tinkling away and chattering adds to humm’s charm.
The shiny guitar bouncing along on Trampolining belies the apocalyptic nature of the doom-laden -lyrics, and if the overall vibe wasn’t quite so triumphant it would seem a somewhat appropriate end to the album, as we all hunker in our bunkers waiting for the plague to spy the crosses on our doors and move on.
Hang on, did I say it was the end of the album? It isn’t quite. As Malojian explains he wrote The Singularity only two weeks ago, sent it to Jason Lytle and they “decided, since we are both in lockdown, to try and record it over the weekend”. Surely then this is the world’s first case of a unique corona inspired collaboration (aside from the shitty duets et al we have had to endure from the likes of Take That and Westlife)? Lennon-like piano and Lytle like world-weariness give The Singularity the gravitas that the current situation demands, and the accompanying heavenly hosts that Jason has consistently conjured up throughout his previous masterpieces frame Malojian’s heart-bludgeoning lyric, “Is there anyone here who can heal the trembling of my heart?” It is touching and jaw-dropping on an album that has many unexpected highlights.
HUMM by Malojian seems to have everything; gorgeous melodies, unexpected moments, ethereal vocals, clever lyrics, heartfelt emotion and brilliant tunes. You could easily spend a whole day with each song which given the current situation might not be too bad a thing to do. I would recommend this album regardless of the situation, but given we are where we are, HUMM just seems to fit quite perfectly with our current predicament.
It’s like having a friend who understands exactly what is going on and it is quite fucking brilliant.
Malojian is welcome to “just sit here” anytime.