Humm, the fifth album by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Stevie Scullion, aka Malojian, wasn’t supposed to be released until September, but the COVID-19 lockdown prompted him to put it out as a digital download from Bandcamp six months ahead of schedule. In a note to fans, when he dropped it online, Scullion said: “If it brings you even a few minutes of distraction during these strange times then happy days.”
Fittingly, on the irresistible, bouncy and synth-led ‘Tsundoku’, Scullion, who is from County Armagh, sings: “If your whole world’s shaking, try to keep control and let the good part, let the good part, let the good part overflow.”
The record is a collaboration with Jason Lytle, frontman of Californian alt-country/indie-rockers Grandaddy, whom Scullion describes as his “sonic hero.” Grandaddy have often been compared to Radiohead and, funnily enough, on the stunning opener, ‘And The Thief Came In’, Scullion’s soaring vocals sound like Thom Yorke’s. Starting out as an acoustic ballad, with twinkling keyboards, it soon lifts off and heads into epic The Bends territory – think ‘High and Dry’ or ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ – with feedback-laced guitar and otherworldly atmospherics.
The lyric deals with the death of a loved one, but it’s a strangely uplifting song. In the chorus, Scullion tells us,“Seems like nothing’s ever going to come easy. I feel like I’m unraveling slowly,” before pondering: “If I swallow myself will I grow, or disappear? Is it okay if I just sit here?”
‘Walking Away’ has some great grungy and jangly guitars on it, and throws some swirling organ into the mix, too, while the chugging, widescreen epic ‘Golden Age’ is a nostalgia trip, which references retro gaming and has a touch of Neil Young about it.
‘Trampolining’ melds Belle and Sebastian’s indie-pop with glam rock, ‘Burns’ is a gorgeous, folky, bluesy lullaby, although it concerns itself with Armageddon, and ‘Someone K New’ is ghostly and melancholy – with an unexpected, fuzzed-up electric guitar solo cutting through the sea of burbling synths – again it has echoes of Neil Young.
Beck and REM drummer Joey Waronker and ex-Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerry Love guest on the album – both played on Malojian’s 2017 long-player Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.
Making the new record, says Scullion, was only possible because of the internet and being able to bounce ideas around the world and back again. Ironically, many of the songs are about people’s unhealthy relationship with technology. On the sparse piano and drum machine ballad, ‘The Singularity’, which Scullion and Lytle recorded during lockdown, sending their parts to each other, Scullion muses on self-isolation and the smartphone generation.
The raw piano and vocal tracks were made available online, so fans could create their own versions of the song and post them on social media, using the hashtag #JasonLytleChallenge.
‘Trampolining’ tackles surveillance state paranoia – “I heard the government’s moving the sky and everywhere that you look is an eye. I’d love to know what they’re hoping to reveal and what they’re stealing. Is it my mind?”
Scullion took the title of the album from Foilhummerum Bay, which is on Valentia Island, off the west coast of Ireland, and is where the first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid. Talking about releasing it in the era of social distancing, he says: “Maybe this is the right time to put it out – back through the same door it came in.”
A limited edition, heavyweight, gatefold vinyl version of Humm and a CD will come out in the autumn - September 18 – on Kilkenny-based independent label Rollercoaster Records.
If you’re looking for an album to lose yourself in during these dark days, then this should do the trick.
It’s haunting, sad and ethereal, but it’s also occasionally upbeat and optimistic - a perfect soundtrack for this strange new world we find ourselves in. You’ll be, ahem, humming these songs for weeks.