Album Review: Tom Hummer – “Pairs”

Pairs cover art

When The Greenhouse Effect came out in 2010, I didn’t get to hear it until around mid-2012. I was struck by its very clean instrumentation and production, as well as its dark and morose songwriting. The album also had a knack for melody and hooks, especially on tracks like “Town Meeting”. But I felt like it was missing something, like a true purpose or ambition.

When I learned of a new album to be released by Hummer, I thought that it would probably be more of the same, only refined. In TGE, Tom didn’t have much confidence or self-esteem when it came to performing as a solo artist. Thanks to much retrospective praise and acclaim, he found the will to continue and create this leap of a sophomore album, simply entitled Pairs.

Aside from the headache-spawning, yet brilliant album cover this has (it’s a scintillating grid illusion), Pairs isn’t really the easiest experience ever. This is a concept album, and its concept is a bit tough to wrap your head around. Songs are arranged in sets of two, hence the album’s title. They are grouped together, mostly lyrically. The album is primarily in the vein of progressive rock, noticeably different from The Greenhouse Effect.

Despite that quality, the album maintains what made Tom’s last album special: catchy hooks, great riffs, and bass-heavy production. However, the lyrics are where change is evident. Take the track “Alcatraz” for example. The track before was the single, titled “Free”. But on this track, the lyrics totally explain a different story. Tom starts off talking about being free and not knowing what comes to him, and on the next track talks about being trapped and restrained: “We just can’t believe you got outside/we locked the door a thousand times”. The two are a pair in the concept, and it’s a pretty good batch of irony.

“Drifting Out to Sea” is a more chord-based track. The chord progression and vocal melody is a bit predictable, however. But the lyrics are especially depressing, explaining Tom struggling through insanity and losing hope in himself and others. The song only features Hummer on guitar, with no other instruments around it. The simplicity of the track is what hits it out of the park for me.

The vocals on this album are a huge factor in Pairs. Tom has definitely gotten very confident in his vocals. A bit too confident, I think. Of course, you have some great vocal moments, like “Free” and “Absolutely Everything”, but there are moments where I think Tom’s confidence got the best of him. The track “Hypnosis” has some great guitar arrangements and a great interview sample, but the background vocals can be very pitchy. At one point, I didn’t even know what notes he was trying to sing.

Now, to the concept part. The conceptual flow to the album is absolutely brilliant. I can’t help but feel the “pairs” idea and the depressing lyrics come together like bread and butter. There are noticeably less catchy standouts on the album than The Greenhouse Effect, due to the idea of an “album listening experience” rather than a collection of songs.

Pairs is an album that takes several listens to get the idea. It is definitely one of the best “multiple-listen” albums of the year. The only thing I question is Tom’s inconsistent vocals. If he can step up his game on his next album and consistently churn out equal-par vocal parts, then I think I’ll have a better time. But for now, I really can’t wait to hear this live.

83/100

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