By its own admission Human Television is trying to make the music it enjoys listening to. From the very first notes of the Gainesville, Florida’s debut eight song LP, you can’t help but think the band spends most of its time driving around in a van with R.E.M.’s Reckoning playing on near-constant repeat. Imagining a lead single from All Songs Written By: Human Television on radio playlists side-by-side with songs by R.E.M., the Smiths, the Wedding Present or even the Replacements is not difficult. In fact, it is easier to imagine it on radio playlists during the mid-’80s than today. Through its music, Human Television explores an important period in the history of modern music by celebrating bands that gave rise to the popularity of college radio and created “alternative” music. That the band is able to pull it off with such sincerity is no small feat.
Human Television is very honest about another of its intentions: “As musicians, we have basically devoted our lives to the pursuit of that inexplicable characteristic in certain songs that makes a person want to listen to them 50 times in a row without them ever becoming old or boring,” says guitarist/vocalist Billy Downing.
The pursuit has been a success — the album inspires repeated listens without sacrificing the integrity of the music. To say that the music is trivial or oversimplified for the sake of repetition or melody would be to greatly understate the album. The songs of Human Television are succinct, jangly, minimalist pop gems that rely on a gift for melody and simplicity, coupled with infectious guitar riffs. The swift and engaging sound this brings is a welcome change from the heavy, synth-oriented production sounds that characterize much of the new wave resurgence that has been sweeping the radio.
All Songs Written By: Human Television hooks the listener from the onset. The opener, “Saw You Walking By”, announces the band’s intentions with wonderful results. Layered guitars build on one another to create a melodic tapestry for the song’s half-spoken lyrics. The opening line of the album, “Saw you walking by her just the other day/ I said hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey,” quickly becomes a melody you will find yourself humming or singing aloud during the middle of the day without even realizing it. Human Television mixes those opening lines with a catchy guitar riff and an upbeat verse that inspire pop euphoria.
Human Television’s tight arrangements and brief songs keep the half-spoken melodies and mid-tempo songs from becoming redundant long enough to inspire a second listen and then a third, before the songs show their weightier side. Multiple listens of the album reveal that not all of the songs are the sunshine feel-good ditties the music implies. Some of them are well-disguised lamentations. One of the more passive songs, “Yeah Right”, aches: “I wonder where I’ll wander to next/ To get you off my mind under these contexts/ And that I even want to is kind of a line/ And how I don’t know what I wanted tonight”.
The lyrics, while not earth-shattering, are attached to a captivating lyrical meter and guitars that combine to create a song that is serious without being depressing and catchy without being frivolous. Similarly, “Tell Me What You Want”, contrasts a heavy baseline and despondent lyrics against a modest groove and bright guitars. The result is one of the more intriguing and engaging songs on the album.
Although some of the music the most recent revival the new wave scene has spawned has been great, a lot of it has been average at best. With so much mediocre talent filtering through the air waves, it is nearly impossible to find the bands worth seeking out. Human Television is one of those bands worth seeking out. It manages to unabashedly recreate the sounds that pervaded the ’80s independent rock scene without sounding dated, contrived or ironic.
Taken at face value, Human Television may seem like little more than a band standing on the shoulders of its predecessors and carefully hiding its rouse behind a smile of playful pop honesty. But a closer look into the album uncovers something more. It is the intangible characteristic music takes on when its architect believes in what it does. Less sincere or capable bands fail to give the music they create this subtle quality that separates the albums you reach for over and over, from those that end up at used music stores. All Songs Written By: Human Television has that intangible quality and, as a result, rises to the top of today’s saturated new wave music scene to be one of the albums you will likely reach for over and over.