Hum, “Downward is Heavenward”

…and we are not alone.

In February 1998, I was living with my parents, working two jobs, and attending community college in southeast Kansas. The nearest “real” cities with anything to do were two hours away (pick a cardinal direction and you’ll hit one). Music was my escape. Downward is Heavenward was one of my favorite “escapist” albums.

Flashback three years earlier. I had my first run in with Hum at an amusement park in Kansas City called Worlds of Fun. Lawrence, Kansas’ radio station Lazer 105.9 put on an all day long concert with both local bands and up-and-coming national acts. RCA had just released Hum’s major label debut (You’d Prefer an Astronaut) and “Stars” was set to go supernova (note to self – way to work that in there). It was the intellectual and romantic-in-the-classic-sense-of-the-word lyrics married to loud dropped-D chugging that was unlike anything my teenage ears had heard. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill 90s rock. It wasn’t self-apathetic grunge, it wasn’t overtly boyfriend/girlfriend music (although it was, hidden in metaphor and scientific terminology).

Fast forward, back to 1998. Downward is Heavenward is released. The album artwork, the sonics (far better than the Cleaversly production, in my opinion), the lyrics, and the dynamic instrumentation all came together in the right place at the right time. It’s more mature than You’d Prefer an Astronaut. A few of the tracks, including the opening “Isle of the Cheetah” require patience. It’s not move-you-from-the-hips rock. It’s a slow burn, which wasn’t exactly en vogue at the time. The somber “Apollo” is another track in that vein but god, what a beautiful and heartbreaking song. After “Apollo”, the album closes with what probably ties for my favorite Hum song, “The Scientists”:

she says “keep this benzene ring around your finger
and think of me when everything you wanted starts to end.”

systems back down slow, watch the dust cloud descend.
and I will keep you, I will keep you to the end.
set your head back low, watch my ears ring.
I will take care of you, I will take care of everything.

I was privileged enough to see Hum more than a few time while they criss-crossed the midwest. At one of their last shows, I slipped Matt Talbott (guitarist/singer) a demo tape of stuff I’d been working on, asking him to give it a listen and tell me what he thought. He simply said: “It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what you think.” Advice that I’ve kept close to my heart ever since.

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About Nicholas Horn

I grew up in the southeast corner of Kansas, where there was little to do but listen to music and dream of escape. I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, although I primarily kept to the business side of it. I married my long-distance sweetheart during my last year of study and we currently reside in Flint, MI. We have a darling little girl who I'm hoping will be a hell of a guitarist one day.

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