The Howl & The Hum’s debut album ‘Human Contact’ is an equally uplifting and melancholy record that shape-shifts through genres while maintaining just the right balance of cohesion.
Stream: ‘Human Contact’ – The Howl & The Hum
Human contact is the baseline for building interpersonal connections. Whether it be a hug, tap on the shoulder, or a firm handshake, we use these social cues to assess situations and form bonds. The yearning to feel physically connected to other people is one of the most natural human desires and, until now, many had the luxury of taking it for granted. The world has been hit by an affliction that has severed the physical ties between loved ones and friends, leaving just our emotional and digital connections.
Despite their debut album’s uncanny timing, The Howl & The Hum are not sages or psychics who predicted the future; Human Contact is merely a product of their appreciation of the connections and memories that make us imperfectly human.
Released May 29, 2020, Human Contact is inspired by personal relationships, loss, and the onset of dementia. Humans are mortal and with that comes the inevitable fading of everything that makes us us. People leave our lives, we forget sweet memories, and conditions like dementia remind us that despite how hard we try to digitally eternalise our memories, they too are mortal, just as we are.
The opening track “Love You Like a Gun” sets the record off on an unexpected foot. An electronic baseline and vocals with a hint of computerization are a far cry from the usual vocal clarity of lead singer Sam Griffiths, but the change is welcome. The track has a full sound that is carried by percussion and a melody that is present only in the vocals.
Someone said this would be easier
It’s convenient amnesia
You’re a bullet with my name on, love
“Love You Like a Gun” is the perfect presage for some of the deep, dark tones present on the title track “Human Contact”, and indeed the entire album. The track “Human Contact” depicts the battle between alienation and technology and uses drum fills to create an ominous, dystopian atmosphere that offers the perfect metaphor for the digital age. A similar percussive beat to that of “Love You Like a Gun” flows through the title track, but this time a distinct melody is more prominent. “Murmur” is equally as ominous as “Human Contact”, but instead, blurs the eerie with the sensual in a hauntingly alluring way, never losing the focus of its commanding beat.
“Hall Of Fame” is a standout moment on the record. The track combines nostalgic synths with a brilliant pop vocal to deliver an anthemic, upbeat song that is impossible to forget.
A feeling ago we were turned into stone
Watching repeats of an old tv show
See I live in the moment, I live in the moment
It’s just not this one
“Until I Found A Rose” is another highlight. The electro-pop track is uptempo, but not necessarily upbeat, and the perfect example of accessible pop that has a soul. The Howl & The Hum are artists that paint the most vibrant, vivid pictures with their music; Until I Found A Rose is one of the best illustrations of that. The band seem to understand how to develop music that allows you to create your own perfect backstory, which may be wildly different from the one that inspired the track, but is no less important.
Contrastingly, “Hostages” takes a stripped-back approach, letting listeners languish in the heartbreaking tale of two lovers who meet on a bridge to exchange their ‘hostages’ (the belongings that were left in the property of the other). The familiar story told by this silky ballad shows off The Howl & The Hum’s innate ability to evoke nostalgia. The stripped-back theme is taken to an even greater level on “Got You On My Side.” In a previous interview, Sam told Atwood Magazine that it’s the simplest song he’s ever written. The modest lyricism on “Got You On My Side” paired with the legato, electronic style vocals keeps it grounded and raw.
The first single from the album, “The Only Boy Racer Left On The Island”, alerted tastemakers to The Howl & The Hum at the end of 2019. Inspired by toxic masculinity, lost youth, and a lone boy racer on the Orkney Islands, the track begins softly, before building into an emotionally pent track that uses well-considered percussion, dreamy synths, and an honest vocal delivery to resonate with even the most distant listener. “The Only Boy Racer Left On The Island” is the epitome of how The Howl & The Hum tap into their listener’s psyches and evoke nostalgic Saudade (an untranslatable Portuguese word that describes a yearning, melancholic nostalgia for something that, perhaps, has never happened). The song’s ending crashes through the tension caused by failed masculinity.
When I was young I said this town will live in my dust
My father said “My boy that’s life not for the likes of us”
But the boys in the streets, in the fast cars, they kept turning heads
And I said “Boy, they’re real men, one day I’ll be one of them”
I’ve previously described this band as musical magpies, who combine genres and elements from all styles of music, and by this, I still stand. Overall, the record could be described as accessible pop with a twist, but really that would not do it complete justice. “Hotel Song” takes a distinctly new wave route, boasting an introduction that bears a similarity to that of Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself – with a more mid-tempo and slightly melancholic tone of course. Whereas, “27” uses its disco undertone to comment on the childish trait that we all possess; the need to make an impression on people and for those people to remember us.
“Smoke” uses a catchy riff to carry the melody and intelligent metaphors gradually build the emotions of the track that depicts an inescapable break-up. Despite the track’s sombre subject matter, the inevitable eventuality enables acceptance, which translates through its pleasant, light sound.
Fan favourite “Sweet Fading Silver” is tantalisingly saved for the album’s final quarter. The moving guitar-led ballad showcases an incredible falsetto, offers a gripping rock-inspired guitar solo, and serves intelligent musicality that pulls the whole record together. The track encompasses all that Human Contact is in one, beautifully laced, sonic package: poetic lyricism, deep emotional insight and skillfully placed instrumentals.
You call it age and I call it surrender
Hold on to the past cause the future will haunt you
Your dad’s Fiat Punto in sweet fading silver
The slow organ-led track, “[Pigs]”, which could be likened to both Lucy In the Sky With Diamond and Make Me a Channel Of Your Peace, finalizes Human Contact. “[Pigs]” has a soft, almost churchly nature that leaves the listener feeling zen and relaxed at the end of such an impassioned record.
The Howl & The Hum have created a heartbreakingly relatable ode to all the flaws that make us human.
Human Contact is cohesive, without becoming repetitive, at moments gut-wrenching and at others joyous, and wildly alternative while still accessible for the mainstream music world. On their debut record, the band have struck an impeccable balance between creative exploration into delicate themes and listenable music. Human Contact does everything a debut album should.
The Howl & The Hum are Sam Griffiths, Bradley Blackwell, Conor Hirons and Jack Williams.
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