REVIEW: “Pharmakon”by Humbird is a beautifully complex album


As music fans, we often like to have our music in neat little packages with labels like folk or rock or whatever the case may be. However, some albums just don’t fit neatly into whatever label you’re tempted to slap on them. Pharmakon by Humbird is one of those nuanced albums that isn’t easily labeled.

The mood in “Eve Boards a Train” is a lot like a Judy Collins song. While she strums an acoustic guitar, Siri Undlin sings in a sweet voice that isn’t much above a whisper. The bass line by Pat Keen is jazzy and sounds like it would fit just as easily in a Tom Waits song. The story of the song is as interesting as the melody. It takes Eve from the Bible and speculates how she might respond to modern times.

Even more folky is the title track in which Sundlin picks and acoustic guitar and sings a song that seems more like a long poem set to music. The mood again is similar to Judy Collins while the vocals and storytelling have some similarity to Aimee Mann.

“April” is a good example of what a musical contradiction Humbird is. On the one hand the melody has a lot going on with violin by Shane Leonard (who also produced the album), pedal steel by Ben Lester, and keyboards. On the other hand, it has a very minimalist quality that comes mainly from the tempo and the space between notes.

“Persephone” is a song that could best be described as both jazzy and busy. The rhythm section comes to the forefront at the beginning of the song with Shane Leonard providing a beat that feels somewhat improvisational. Kind of atonal piano part. CJ Camarieri lays down some minimal horn accents in the background. Layers of sound seem to come from everywhere.

It’s nearly impossible to classify this album. There are elements of folk in both the guitar and the vocals. You hear some jazz elements not only in the rhythms, but also in the fact that it’s hard to predict what comes next in any given song. Pharmakon will be available everywhere on August 30. Order your copy here.

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