Here Come the Warm Riffs
Though it’s a much more low-key affair than his previous solo album—the garage-rockin’ Wheels in Motion, released by Chicago’s Pravda Records in 2007—Glenn Mercer’s new Incidental Hum is nonetheless a slow-burn classic, and an absolute gift to fans of the hugely influential and groundbreaking ’80s art-rockers the Feelies. (And I’m certainly one: Here’s my take on their last album; here I am previewing their visit to Chicago in 2009, and here they are on Sound Opinions).
The most unconventional of guitar heroes—Mercer often looks as if he just rolled out of bed and onto the stage, until the moment he unleashes a furious solo—his tubular, overdriven, buzzing, droning, and occasionally erupting feedback guitar lines have long been the missing link between the Velvet Underground and Brian Eno’s “pop” albums and the most inventive bands of the current underground. On his second solo release, he’s in purely instrumental mode, continuing a strain of his work that began with an experimental ambient side project called the Willies in the ’80s (they used to play in complete darkness) and which included contributions to the soundtrack of the 1982 cult film Smithereens (directed by Susan Seidelman, who’d go on to make Desperately Seeking Susan and Sex in the City).
“My idea for the Incidental Hum was to try to create music that would evoke an atmosphere, that would, in turn, suggest images of a more specific location,” Mercer has said. “I would, as an experiment, picture in my mind a scene with a particular environment and then write music to match the mood and place. Once the concept came together, I also allowed for influences from other movie soundtracks like cheesy B horror films, spaghetti westerns and teenage surf flicks.”
Indeed, each of these 15 tracks evokes a radically different world as well as illuminating a different element of Mercer’s unique six-string palette, from the Ennio Morricone-like picking of “Yuma” to the drawn-out guitar lines of “Kara Sea,” and from the fuzzbox fury of “Mobile” to the glacial atmospherics of “Kodiak.” Always a scholar of rock history with a devotion to drawing unexpected connections, Mercer also includes a handful of well-chosen covers: a guitar-driven take on “Over the Rainbow,” his channeling of Jimi Hendrix on “Third Stone from the Sun,” and the old Feelies/Willies/Trypes staple “Here Come the Warm Jets” by Eno.
With every track, you get the sense that the song began long before Mercer hit “record,” and that it continues way after he pressed “stop,” possibly buzzing on into infinity. Anyone seeking an antidote/firewall to block out the invasive audio chaos of that annoying co-worker or the chattering cell-phone addicts on the bus or el could do no better than choosing one of these instrumentals with the mood to fit today’s state of mind. Put in the ear buds, hit “repeat,” and prepare to be blissfully transported.
Glenn Mercer, Incidental Hum (Bar/None)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.