Review: Alain Johannes ‘Hum’

When I was 17 I saw Soundgarden on their Down On The Upside tour and Alain‘s band Eleven were supporting. Fast forward 3 years and while listening to Chris Cornell’s debut solo album Euphoria Morning I spotted Alain‘s name amongst the songwriting credits. I later saw he had collaborated with Queens Of The Stone Age on their underrated album Lullabies To Paralyze. In fact, Alain seems to have featured on a lot of the albums I’ve enjoyed over the years so when the opportunity arose to review his latest solo album Hum, I grabbed it with both hands.

Review: Alain Johannes ‘Hum’

To say Alain has been through a lot would be an understatement, losing his wife Natasha Schenider to cancer in 2008, Chris Cornell to suicide in 2017 and then plagued more recently by his own health issues. This album could be seen as a cathartic release. The cover features a black and white portrait of Alain, in a peaceful and meditative state, as if contemplating the trials and tribulations of recent years.

Mermaids’ Scream opens and is the shortest track on the album featuring a beautifully strummed Spanish sounding guitar, vocally reminiscent of Chris Cornell and David Bowie. A short but effective intro. Title track Hum follows with some gorgeously plucked guitar and wistful vocals that remind one of Elliot Smith and the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, a vulnerability emanating from every note. Hallowed Bones opens with a flurry of sitar enveloping the track with vintage psychedelia, taking you on a journey. There is a slight Eddie Vedder intonation to the vocals which is unsurprising as Eleven supported Pearl Jam at one point. The track in fact reminds me of that band’s more introspective moments on No Code than the stadium rock bombast of Ten.

This album is a beautifully unpretentious, compact and honest piece of work…

Someone is a quieter understated piece, stripped of psych styled embellishments, reminding me of Scritti Politti’s Snow In Sun from that band’s album White Bread Black Beer. If Morning Comes despite its dark intonations conveys messages of hope stating ‘I’ll try again’ ‘And Carry On’, indicative of Alain‘s determination to persevere through the numerous adversities that have come his way. Free actually brought tears to my eyes, a dreamy feel to the picking and the free spirited nature (pun intended) of the lyrics. Possibly the most affective track on the album.

At over five minutes Sealed is the longest track on the album with a dirtier blues laden feel to it, and also not a million miles away from Alice In Chains at their darkest. Here In The Silence again reminds me of Elliot Smith, a gentile yet effective indie folk number that would have fit in perfectly on the end credits of Good Will Hunting as Will drives off to reconcile with Skylar. Nine sees Alain moving out of his comfort zone and experimenting with downbeat electronica to interesting effect before we move onto closing number Finis, described in the promo notes as ‘a touching message to the love of his life’. The track feels like a suitable conclusion to the album with Alain vowing to Natasha that ‘All that we started I’ll see to the end’ which is both heartbreaking yet hopeful.

The very fact that Alain has found the inner fortitude to continue making music after the onset of tragedies he’s had to face is a testament to the man himself.  This album is a beautifully unpretentious, compact and honest piece of work that should inspire everyone who is facing similar life challenges, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Label: Ipecac Recordings
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills