With a home studio, fluency on a number of instruments, and an eclectic taste in music, Collin Desha must be living the dream. Born and raised in Hawaii, the self-proclaimed “surf punk kid” was hooked on both the ocean and music and by age 17, he relocated to Los Angeles, eager to explore and absorb the explosive music scene. Eventually setting up his home studio and pairing with French producer/drummer Jules de Gasperis, Desha adopted the moniker Low Hum and released a self-titled EP last year.
Now, with the release of a full-length follow-up, Room to Breathe, Desha is continuing to explore music with, in his words, “no boundaries”. While De Gasperis still plays most of the drums and a few other musicians chip in here and there, it’s Desha who wrote the songs as well as handling the lion’s share of the performing. With a project like this – a complete studio creature with multiple overdubs – it can be hard for the finished tracks to sound like a coherent band. Fortunately, Room to Breathe hums along – pardon the pun – with solid musicianship and refreshingly consistent songwriting.
There’s a lo-fi aesthetic that runs through Room to Breathe, but never at the expense of the song. Rather, the home studio feel of the album gives the compositions a charming angle, and the sometimes brittle psychedelia adds an optimistic, user-friendly, “everyone is welcome” vibe. The most obvious comparison to be made is Tame Impala. While I’m confident that Desha has his own vision and is not overtly copying other artists, I’d be surprised if Currents wasn’t on heavy rotation during these sessions.
Like Kevin Parker’s band, the mix of neo-funk beats, dreamy vocals and colorful, retro-synth accents on Room to Breathe help give the album an eclectic appeal. Opening track “Fake Reality” struts along with an old-school funk cadence, but eventually it crashes into “Strange Love”, with an insistent motorik beat giving the song a classic krautrock feel. By the time the splashes of keyboards wash over the seductive groove of the title track, it’s obvious that Low Hum’s ambition is matched only by what’s probably an extensive record collection.
The warm, lo-fi indie funk of the album often takes sentimental turns. “Nebraska” is a heartfelt – yet sometimes musically brash – tribute to Desha’s deceased grandfather. “Crimson Cardinal” pays tribute to a close friend who committed suicide a few years ago. The song – whose title refers to his friend’s tattoo – is punctuated by hyper-distorted, Neil Young-style guitar leads, which seem initially to fly in the face of the track’s gentle grooves, but in reality, adds more sonic layers to an already revelatory song. Lesser composers and producers would find the combination incongruous, but Desha realizes the emotional punch that all these factors pack, and the result is bracing.
Adding to the mix the Britpop shadings of “Sun Chaser” and the spacey musical swirls that run through “Comatose”, it’s clear that Collin Desha is intent on checking off as many stylistic boxes as possible on Room to Breathe. It’s easy to profess a love for multiple styles of music and even to declare an intent to imbue your art with as much of it as possible. The hard part is pulling it off. Mission accomplished.