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.