Music

Venus Hum: self-titled

Ben Varkentine

Venus Hum

Venus Hum

Label: Mono-fi
US Release Date: 2001-04-24
Amazon
iTunes

If you, like me, have synth-pop/dance records in your collections ranging from pioneers like Vince Clarke to bandwagon jumpers like Naked Eyes, Venus Hum will fit snugly after them. The Nashville(!)-based band seem very much in the mold that Clarke helped perfect with Erasure and his other bands, that of techno-driven, synthetically composed and textured dance-pop given warmth and delicacy by a soaring vocalist. For Venus Hum that vocalist is Annette Strean, her band mates are Tony Miracle and Kip Kubin, both credited simply with "synthesizers."

The album starts a bit wobbly with the static-and-distortion heavy "Sonic Boom", but soon rights itself with the shining ode to "Montana". This lays down a synthetic march tempo and sets Strean loose over it; it's one of the two best songs on the record. The other is the smooth space-pop sound of "Break Me Out", which makes an irresistibly liquid pool for Strean's bubbly vocal.

I've been known to slap the wrists of rock bands who fail to break new ground. So although Venus Hum works in a style I much prefer, recreating the new romantic/wave era, I'm compelled to point out that with a number of their songs they do little more than that. Some of the backing tracks are generic to yawn inducing. "Wordless May", for example, is somewhat ironically titled, as the words are in fact what hold the song up, and similar criticism can be made of "Hummingbirds". However, even on the lesser arrangements, the compelling vocals, melodies and lovely lyrics will find themselves lodged in your brain. All songs are by the band, lyrics aren't included on the inside sleeve but are available at their web site.

Some of the tracks might be improved by remixing and refinement. "King of the Hill", for example, is a bit too cool for comfort in the verses, but the near-perfection of the melodic synth hook in the chorus suggests that it could be polished into a gem. I must confess I would love to hear what a fine alternative dance-pop mixer/producer of the '80s/early '90s era, such as perhaps Youth or Dave Bascombe, or better yet Clarke himself, would do with this. I would prefer if any such remixes were not done by one Jacob Lawson, who contributes a "Superquiet Remix" of "Sonic Boom" at the end. Lawson also did some fine string arrangements for some songs, but as a mixmaster, let's just say I don't think Depeche Mode is going to be calling him any time soon. His remixing ideas consist of whispered vocals and childish bleeps and bloops. As an extra track on a CD single, this would still be dullsville but an acceptable throwaway. As an album track, it's painful, but it does have the virtue of making the opening original sound better by comparison. The rest of the album is produced by the band and mixed by them and (on five tracks) Shane Wilson .

Venus Hum is simultaneously one of the most powerful and promising debuts I have ever heard. Though its weaknesses show that there is room for improvements, its strengths suggest that they will make them. I look forward to their next hitting even harder and flying up even higher.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image