Inlet is the first album in 22 years from Champaign, Illinois band Hum, who enjoyed minor radio and considerable cult success in the ’90s and hence. On it, the band’s sonic blueprint is decidedly grappled to grunge rock, historically making minimal updates on the sound and instrumentation blueprint of that movement.
Astonishingly, too, Inlet actually is in exactness the first Hum release of any kind whatsoever since Downward is Heavenward, representing a noticeable lack of extraneous, monetarily or contractually minded “re-releases,” “greatest hits compilations,” “live albums,” etc. What’s more is that they have the same lineup they’ve toted since their second album Electra 2000 (Inlet marks their fifth) of Matt Talbott on guitar and vocals, Tim Lash on guitar (who also tackles mixing duties, per Wikipedia), Jeff Dimpsey on bass and Bryan St. Pere on drums.
How’s that for lack of hype? Well, there’s more: Wikipedia describes Inlet as having been “surprise-released digitally to Bandcamp on June 23, 2020” (the album is now uploaded to Spotify as well, which I suppose doesn’t matter but does make matters a little more user-friendly). The story plays out like a tale of a well-planned ambush of sonic guerilla warfare, which makes it ironic that the furnished result nestles itself so obediently within the extant musical style that the band has made their calling card from the start. In every sense, Hum have gone in and made a Hum album, and an excellent, full-bodied one on which the near-seven-minute mean song length denotes not so much an expansiveness as a charismatic surety in their m.o.
As for the components of this salient beast, the cover is… um… really rad, for lack of a better term, working in tandem with the vaguely pastoral album title to conjure up a sort of pagan, Dionysian vibe this band has seemingly been working toward their whole career, of which to heretofore fall substantially short. By comparison, Inlet is focused, intense and purposeful but most importantly dark and ominous, implicitly damaged in its profuse adhesion to noodley riffs and chugging Fender sludge.
Opener “Waves” is grounded by a fierce and brilliantly mixed guitar monsoon that unfurls as an infectious riff that might have popped up on Superunknown, or King Animal, for that matter. What was striking to me, then, right away, was just how much this music seemed to ooze Hum’s foundational identity from its pores. Talbott seems to take not only the same vocal technique but also a similar emotional tone to their former work, which ends up materializing roughly as a poker-faced but unflinching, pristinely melodic delivery.
The guitar duality I allude to earlier sends “In the Den” into prime form right away, with this screeching, atonal intro that reminded me a bit of the start of “Maria” by Rage against the Machine ushering in some more rhythm part explosion, thereby reinstating the band’s default battle cry. Through and through, bone by bone and gristle by gristle, this is an album meant for lovers of alternative rock and lovers of the band Hum, an album on which the lyrics aren’t necessarily showcased in any conspicuous way. This makes a query of what the music is “about” rather problematic, which in truth, such an examination always is.