Album Review: Low Hummer – Modern Tricks For Living

[Dance To The Radio; 2021]

Decades of influences shape the music of Hull, England-based newcomers Low Hummer. They glide from DFA-esque electro-dance one moment to unbridled punk rock the next, oftentimes within the same song. Take album highlight “The Real Thing”, which takes after LCD Soundsystem in its bouncing synth arrangements cut with roaring yet rhythmic guitars. Yet, by the chorus, Low Hummer are in the territory of noise-infused groups like Osees before sliding back into dance mode. This is only one example from their excellent debut album Modern Tricks For Living, however: their music delivers similar moments at almost every turn.

The album is firmly grounded in the social and political landscape of 2021; not a line spoken or sung is spared of biting commentary or bleak observation. Opening track “Take Arms” centers around the north/south divide in England and has the singer and guitarist Dan Mawer rallying up people on all extremes: “For all the Northerners pretending to be Southern, take arms / All the business class still living with your mothers, take arms.” The raucous “I Choose Live News” has him and fellow vocalist and guitarist Aimee Duncan spitting off their daily routines with biting resentment.

Low Hummer worked with producer Matt Peel at The Nave studio in Leeds for Modern Tricks For Living. The decision was made to develop these songs as they were being recorded, one that proved to be invaluable to the album’s success. The songs explore their particular influences and their takes on 2021 nihilism differently enough to justify the near-relentless energy delivered across its 36-minute runtime.

Yet, Modern Tricks For Living is far from self-serious or seething with anger; on the contrary, Low Hummer imbue their music with singalong melodies and treat the sources of their cynicism with deadpan humor. “I don’t believe in global warming, maybe it’s just warm,” Duncan sings on the power-punk “Sometimes I Wish (I Was A Different Person)”, among other tongue-in-cheek admissions. The band’s solution to their anger on “Take Arms” is classic young-adulthood inaction: “Instead we’ll all get drunk, ‘til we drop, escape the bores of the job / Our way of saying, ‘I won’t take it.’” Even the album title Modern Tricks For Living is pure irony: nothing in their lyrics is instructional. It’s precisely this attitude that gives the album an air of levity.

Though Low Hummer is led by Mawer, the group operates more like a collective throughout Modern Tricks For Living: the album’s varied music gives each member a chance to shine. Duncan, Mawer, John Copley, and Stephanie Hebdon (who also plays keyboards) all share guitar duties. Duncan’s dreamy yet yearning vocals ground the rushing energy of “Never Enough” while Hebdon’s fluttering keyboard lines add a retro sheen to “Sometimes I Wish (I Was A Different Person)”. Duncan and Mawer trade lines on “I Tell You What”, which is carried by a gliding guitar melody that would be heard on a Parquet Courts song.

Indeed, Low Hummer only dial down the energy, and just momentarily, on the penultimate track “Commercials”. The song opens with a droopy bass line (played by Jack Gallagher) that could soundtrack a humid afternoon where lethargy seems to be the only logical response. Yet this lethargy is filled with TV commercials that populate their dreams; “You see adverts in your dreams, your head’s one big movie screen,” Mawer says. Commercials—and, by extension, media of any kind—are impossible to escape in our modern world. “Let it go for once in your life,” Mawer and Duncan demand on the chorus, the band once again raging with loud guitars and thrashing drums. Low Hummer, just like the rest of us, understand this isn’t very easy.