Reviews for Stereo Types:
The Humbugs – Stereo Types ****
The first album release from Minneapolis based popsters The Humbugs sees them shamelessly snapping at the heels of the likes of The Pretenders, Crowded House, Aimee Mann, Teenage Fanclub, Prefab Sprout and more. Whilst at first listen much of this album perhaps comes over as simple but catchy jangle driven tunes, a few plays reveals intelligent and cleverly constructed songs with interesting melodic structures, some great harmonies and top quality pop-tastic guitar. The band is fronted by husband and wife team Adam and Kristin Marshall who share writing credits and who add variety by taking lead vocals on alternate tracks and who expand the usual guitars, bass, and drums setup by adding Hammond organ, chamberlind, resonator bells and french horn to the mix. There are chord changes and riffs and snippets throughout this album that remind of earlier classic pop songs and whilst its perhaps a teensy bit pretentious in one or two places, there is certainly no navel gazing; this is big and loud and grin inducing (although most of the lyrics appear to deal with struggling relationships). Personally I found the tracks with Kristin taking lead vocals more effective (and affecting) but then perhaps that’s because they’re uncannily Chrissie Hynde, none more so than on “The Bleak End” one of the stand out tracks here, which just has it all, meaty opening guitar chords and a great fuzzed up solo, lots of harmonies, and a cascading bass line playing tag with crashing drums. Other stand out “Don’t Ever Say You’re Sorry” finds joint vocals giving way to a truly superb guitar solo whilst “One Eye Closed” finds Adam sounding uncannily like Ben Folds with the catchy tag line “She kissed him with one eye open, he kissed her with one eye closed.” It may be stereotypical jangle pop but one can never have enough when its this good. TJF. Tim Ford www.americana-uk.com
January 6, 2005
Sally McGraw follows the Humbugs and sees their trajectory as nothing but up.
Quality Pop is an ephemeral thing. One clichéd lyric or self-indulgent riff can send a group packing – back to join the ranks of plain, old, run-of-the-mill pop. Folkster Dan Bern explains the ideal best in his song “New American Language” when he says, “I have a dream of a new pop music that tells the truth with a good beat and some nice harmonies.” It’s that simple, and yet so many groups miss the mark.
The Humbugs count many of Quality Pop’s heavy-hitters among their heroes: Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Aimee Mann. And although you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint these artists’ direct influence in the local group’s songs, the Humbugs’ infectious hooks and exuberant energy place them firmly in the same category as their musical idols.
The five-piece band invaded the smallish, Christmas light-bedecked stage at the Hexagon Bar with an arsenal of enviable gear. Songwriter and guitarist Adam Marshall hauled on a shiny black Rickenbacker and a 335-style Guild hollow-body; beneath her keyboard, singer Kristin Marshall set out a cabasa, a tambourine, a rattler, and a set of maracas; lead guitarist Mike Senkovich brought up a Gibson hollow-body and a Telecaster. Once drummer Matt Baccoli and bassist Tim Formanek were ready, the group unleashed their first tune on the subdued bar audience.
Kristin’s low mezzo and dazzling stage presence quickly eclipsed the bar’s pockmarked walls and watery drinks, drawing listeners into her story. Her curly reddish hair, cat-eye glasses, and gauzy patterned blouse lent her a hip-but-approachable look that only added to her overall presentation. So many singers would choose to phone it in for a sleepy, frostbitten audience of 30, but this girl knew better. During the opening number, “She’s Not Sad,” she swung her hips and threw her head back with happy abandon. Her ripe, unabashed vocals were complemented by strident backing vocals from Adam and Tim. Although some of the nuances of three-part harmony were lost in the crappy bar-PA mix, the bits that came through were pure musical joy.
Sporting a mop of stiff black hair, dark-rimmed glasses, jeans, and a tweed sportcoat, Adam was the quintessential endearing pop geek – even indulging occasionally in showy dips and flourishes with his gorgeous Guild. He took the mic for about half the tunes, and despite an equally energetic and impassioned stage presence, his straightforward, unadorned baritone left something to be desired after his wife’s vocal pyrotechnics. He lost control of his notes a few times – recovering quickly, but giving an impression of unpolished vocal chops.
The Humbugs must be gearing up for a new album, as their set consisted entirely of as-yet unrecorded songs, including the moderate, flowing “Selective Memory” and the bright, rollicking “Calico Eyes.” Other highlights included the slower, Stevie-Wonder-like groove “Tearing Me Up,” and the plaintive, Latin-influenced ballad “She Goes Home Alone.” Adam joked about how the band’s name prompted many people to ask if they played Christmas music – then indulged this misinterpretation by performing the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” with a barely-harnessed frenetic energy the audience could practically taste.
Every song in their 10-song set had a full, rich pop sound born of high-quality musicianship and palpable passion. Each melody fit perfectly with the next, but each also had a character and life of its own. Every band member contributed to the overall quality of the performance: Matt’s drumming was skillful and varied without being showy or invasive. Mike added texture and depth to the more complex pieces. He soloed infrequently but with fluid grace, and added a fourth harmony to a few songs. Tim occasionally he made musical choices that seemed incongruous within the structure of otherwise orderly songs, but overall, his basslines were strong and solid. Add Kristin’s powerful vocals and Adam’s ardent delivery to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a killer pop outfit. Few groups of musicians communicate so well, or mesh so completely.
It’s gratifying to know that Quality Pop is alive and well here in the Twin Cities. The Humbugs are an underrated and practically undiscovered local gem. Catch them now while they’re still playing free festivals and no-cover bar gigs – they’re not likely to stay minor leagues for long. Ten bucks says they open for Aimee Mann within the next 5 years. Any takers?
Sally McGraw, http://mnartists.org/article.do?rid=56593
By David de Young, The Humbugs, Friday, February 18th, 2005, Hexagon Bar, Minneapolis
My trip to the Hexagon Bar Friday night was rewarded by a double payoff of new pop by two great “bug” bands. That’s right: bug bands. Perhaps it was Hex booker Chris Dorn’s sense of humor, but The Humbugs and The Chinch Bugs were selected to warm up the room for headliners The Autumn Leaves.
I arrived shortly after the start of the Humbugs set. Though the mix was a little loud for the type of music and the small confines of the Hex, I was immediately drawn in by The Humbugs’ more than passable late 60’s and early 70’s-influenced rock.
The Humbugs draw their inspiration from bands and songwriters as diverse as BJ Thomas, The Carpenters and The Grass Roots. They boast great harmonies from chief songwriter, guitarist/vocalist Adam Marshall and his wife Kristin, who trades off lead-vocal duties with her husband and has a voice like a spunkier, more soulful incarnation of Karen Carpenter. It was immediately apparent that this group has that thing mastered (whatever that thing is) that makes you feel good just by hearing them play.
The band scored a home run with their cover of “Magic,” by Scottish popsters Pilot, my favorite song when I was in the 4th grade, and the first song I ever taped off the radio to play over and over and over again on my off-brand a.m./f.m. cassette recorder. (Oh, how I wonder where that boxy-looking pre-cursor to the boombox is now.) Guitarist Marshall told me later they’d almost cut that song from their set. No, no, no, (sung like the “ho ho ho” opening part to the song). Please don’t! Other than cleaning up the guitar solo a bit, it was as good a rendition as I think even Two Tickets To Paradise might manufacture, down to the note for note transcription of the bassline.
Next up was “Bleak End,” sung by Kristin, and a song off the band’s 2002 album Stereo Types. It was passionate in the tradition of Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” It was followed by a ballad called “Tearing Me Up,” bright in the sweet pop style of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back.”
The Humbugs are a band with a diverse emotional dynamic. They know what they are doing musically and where they fall on the rock/pop spectrum. They are also a band who can be enjoyed at first hearing.
“Temptation Eyes” by The Grass Roots was another well-chosen cover towards the end of their set that really warmed up the crowd on this chilly February night.
Other musicians in the band are: Matt Baccoli, drums; Tim Formanek, bass; and Mike Senkovich, lead guitar.
On their album, Water Croll played Lead guitar, Pete Sands played organ and Dave Russ provided additional percussion. Russ also helped engineer the disk along with Brad Cassetto at the Terrarium.
David DeYoung, http://www.howwastheshow.com/reviews-2005/humbugs_chinchbugs-02-18-05.html
Twist The Truth Reviews:
Holy catchy pop! The first time around, the songs on the Humbugs’ third release don’t leave the most memorable impression, but by the second or third listen, every song will likely be stuck in your head over the course of the day.
Though songs are certainly indelible, the record’s slick production wears some tracks down to subdued nubs. This is too bad, because the band’s heart is worn generally on their sleeve and the songs’ shiny surfaces undermine each track’s emotional pull. The heartbreaker “Baby You Don’t Know” has a chorus that almost reaches gorgeous heights, but the overproduction keeps it on the ground. This also goes for “Cream Green Karmann Ghia,” an otherwise fun track that loses steam due to some reverb issues.
However, this is music for Beatles and Aimee Mann enthusiasts, and the songcraft on display is pretty solid. Vocalist and guitarist Adam Marshall wrote the tracks, which range in tone from frivolous to dead serious, and he clearly spent a fair amount of time putting these songs together. They’re fun, interesting and winning.
The record leaves you on a high with “One More Zero,” which features the catchiest chorus you’ve heard in a long time.
David Bruise riftmagazine.com
On The Up Side Reviews:
On The Up Side
Track Listing: One More Day/Lies Behind The Glass/Employee Of The Month/Calico Eyes/As Long As I Matter/Walking Home To You/Fireflies/Crash On Your Couch/Give Me A Clue/Take A Chance/Mic Stand
Band Members: Adam Marshall, Lead & background vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards/Kristin Marshall, Lead & background vocals, percussion, keyboards, French horn/Tim Formanek, bass, backing vocals, tuba/Matt Bacolli, Drums/Mike Senkovich, Lead guitar, pedal steel, backing vocals
Twin Cities quintet The Humbugs have been on the local scene for nearly a decade now, and their clever, absolutely infectious brand of high-energy power pop just gets more addictive with every release. Starting with their auspicious debut EP, Hey That’s My Bike in 1999, the band (fronted by husband-and-wife team Adam and Kristin Marshall) have consistently dropped one classic-in-the-making after another, eventually catching both critics and new fans’ ears with the highly-lauded album Stereo Types.
This year’s On The Up Side finds the outfit’s sound brought to new and adventurous light by both their own never-ending quest to nail the ultimate perfect pop track and their reconnection with genius Twin Cities producer Jacques Wait (Semisonic, The Soviettes, etc.). Wait’s earthy studio approach tends to lend a needed grounding hand when this gorgeous, nearly ethereal ear candy attempts to transcend its own beauty and float away altogether.
That being said, there’s simply not a bad track on this album. The “stand-outs” alone should be enough for a major music biz scout (assuming there are still such creatures roaming the bars and clubs of America) to sign ‘em and smother modern “alternative” radio with a single every other month through the summer and beyond. It’s bands like this that really make one wish television programs like American Idol required the featured acts to pen and perform original music- frankly, as recently as 1998, The Humbugs would have been nestled comfortably on the airwaves next to Semisonic and Adam Cohen.
While they (rightly) claim pop and punk writing influences such as Elvis Costello and Blondie, lead singers/married couple Adam and Kristin Marshall offer up their own unique and wholly original takes on both lyrical and vocal duties. The band in general proudly takes their cues from classic ’60′s AM radio fare as well as celebrated New Wave hipsters like The Monroes, The Pretenders, and ‘Til Tuesday.
Album opener “One More Day” is an urgent, ringing slice of guitar-and-key-laden pop mastery that recalls not only the obvious influences (Beatles, Byrds, Badfinger) but also hearkens to the expansive, grand sounds of bands like Crowded House and Dodgy. Adam Marshall’s pitch-perfect vocals soar over this heartbreak anthem like a torn but determined white flag, and the band projects absolute glee in their exuberant, driving musical come-on.
“Employee Of The Month” comes out smoldering, sporting angelic backing vocals that bely the woeful tale Marshall spins as he metaphorically explores conflicting universal emotions concerning self-examination and evaluation: “I had other plans,” he explains, “a different ambition/I’d write children’s fiction/Now I stare at a white phone, ’cause I thought I’d get a window by now…” and then points out the object of his displeasure, “…didn’t want it, didn’t need it/By the front desk you can see it, there’s a plaque there you can read it/Where they misspelled my name/Adoration, isn’t giving me any salvation/I had other aspirations/Never wanted to be, employee of the month…”
This sort of informed, intelligent lyricism goes a long way towards explaining the difference between the mod-pop Humbug pen and record compared to some of their more obvious influences. While the band as a unit produces some of the same joyful, summer-day musical outbursts as groups like the Raspberries and The Rascals did, their soul-deep, sometimes painfully open approach marks them as a group that should be categorized along side such respected latter-day comrades-in-music as Matthew Sweet, The Blake Babies, and, locally, The Beatifics.
“Calico Eyes” is a bouncy, swooning cut featuring Adam on lead vocals with Kristin sighing, oo-ing, and ahh-ing along in tandem around hypnotic guitars, Beach-Boys-esque choruses, enthusiastic hand-claps, and catty lyrical asides. Here the band makes a statement regarding their own affinity for vinyl recordings by putting an extra space between the track listings as if it were two sides to be listened to in one sitting- a small but appreciated salute to the glory days of pop rock this band is defiantly enabling to continue.
“Side Two” of On The Up Side opens with the wink-and-a-nod love-schizo ballad “Walking Home To You,” which boasts blasts of tuba amid a heady swirl of vocal and musical celebration, then takes a wild turn on “Fireflies,” a snappy, insta-single track featuring the tasty, honeyed vocals of Kristin Marshall, who could recall a plethora of memorable female singers ranging from Jen Trynin to Tanya Donnelly, but manages to establish herself as a formidable, unique voice all her own.
“Give Me A Clue” rides a cracking snare, clucking rhythm and sizzling lead guitars, and features a fantastic vocal interplay between the two Marshalls, “Take A Chance” is a soothing, tear-soaked torch number lamenting bad decisions and “…rainy days in April hiding from the sun…,” and album closer “Mic Stand” finds the group shrugging off their heavy thoughts and reveling in the sheer ecstasy of finding love and happiness amidst loud live music and antsy audience members: “…with a stupid grin/you came walkin’ in/then the lights went dim/and you blew that room away….you hit the mic stand….ya pissed off the soundman…” As the tale unfolds among chunky guitars and thumping bass, Adam smirks good-naturedly and shrugs, “It’s not exactly what you planned…you could tell they were getting bored/Because it’s hard to sell the Spanish Civil War/So you told the crowd, you’re much too loud/Could ya quiet down/I’ve got two more songs to play…”
That last track pretty much encapsulates the spirit of The Humbugs- a quirky, whip-smart collective of savvy song-writers, top-notch vocalists, and undeniably dedicated and professional musicians who seem to actually thrive off of their own contradictions and are probably wondering if they even can write a bad song.
If you’re looking for a perfect summer soundtrack, On The Up Side should be at the top of your list. You can check the band out at www.thehumbugs.com and catch ‘em live here in town on April 21st (that’s tomorrow night!) at Lee’s Liquor Lounge or on May 15th at the Nomad, both in Minneapolis. The official CD release party for OTUS is scheduled for later this summer, but you can purchase the disc now on CDBaby at http://cdbaby.com/cd/humbugs3 Highly recommended. tom hallett round the dial
WOW!! The brilliant fourth release from this Minneapolis quintet who has shown leaps and bounds improvement with each release! Chock full of jangly and shimmering guitars, and wonderful boy/girl harmonies, their goal to make a completely cohesive album intertwining 60′s pop with early 80′s New Wave has been accomplished! The result is eleven tight, concise musical nuggets that strive to take you away to a sugary pop wonderland. And they do! Of course “On The Up Side” features their signature layered vocals, jangly guitars, and the ultra tight rhythm section. “Intelligent and cleverly constructed songs with interesting melodic structures, some great harmonies and top quality pop-tastic guitar.” – Americana-UK.com “A rich pop sound born of high-quality musicianship and palpable passion. Each melody fit perfectly with the next, but each also had a character and life of its own. A killer pop outfit. Few groups of musicians communicate so well, or mesh so completely!” – Sally McGraw “What an appropriate title for a record that’s an uplifting joy of a sugary sweet pop release! After listening to this (over and over – it’s hard not to), one can not help but be ‘up’! The songwriting is of the highest order; the guitars are the jangliest of jangly; the blending of (husband and wife) Adam and Kristin Marshall’s vocals are born from love, and it shows! Imagine a more sugary, less garage-like Grip Weeds and you’re on the right path. The entire band are superb and sympathetic in their accompaniment! This one’s destined to find a place on the top of my 2009 pop heap!” – Max Humphries Spot on (as usual), Max! GREAT!!!! www.koolkatmusik.com
The Humbugs-On the Up Side. Another act that has a few releases under their belt that have gotten by me are the Minneapolis band The Humbugs. They’re overlooked no more thanks to their wonderful new release On The Up Side. With male/female lead vocals and a smart pop sensibility, they draw inevitable comparisons to bands like The New Pornographers and AbPow fave The Cheeksters, but their sound is more straightforward pop. There’s quality here from top to bottom, with “One More Day”, “Employee of the Month”, and the propulsive “Calico Eyes”. Looks like I have another back catalog to sift through!
The Humbugs make it easy to champion the power pop genre, as this Minneapolis quintet is already on it’s fourth album. At the root is sweet natured melodies and sing along harmonies, with a tight rhythm section. The band hits the ground running with the very Posies-like “One More Day” full of top quality guitar riffs and inspiring lyrics. The brilliant hooks and chords changes on “Lies Behind The Glass” take it up another notch and recalls the best of 70s power pop sound buffed with a modern pop sheen. “As Long As I Matter” recall Cheap Trick and vocalist Kristin Marshall does an inspiring job here. Both Kristen and Adam Marshall split the vocal duties and sometimes share the lead. Another musical nugget full of great chord changes in that vein follows with “Employee Of The Month.” Little Beatle-y touches make “Walking Home To You” an unexpected treat and the pensive ballad “Crash On Your Couch” paints a vivid scene, and the combined vocal lead compares well to Fleetwood Mac. It ends strong on “Mic Stand” with a driving guitar and drum leading the way. Every track has a smart hook and the album has no filler at all. Just place it on the ole’ ipod — you will enjoy repeat listens of On The Up Side often. 8/10
Minneapolis quintet perfect their poptastic sound
This is for lovers of the Fountains of Wayne before they found Stacy’s Mom. From the opening pop beauty of ‘One More Day’ The Humbugs demonstrate crisp songwriting, dexterous musicality and above all a tremendous sense of fun.
Their stated aim is to marry sixties pop with early eighties new wave but that misses the point that each one of these songs is just a great song. Adam Marshall and Kirstin Marshall (presumably married or siblings!) share the vocal duties and the dynamic between songs is heightened by the fabulous harmony work that supports the production. Producer Jacques Wait worked with Semisonic and there is more than a hint of that angular sensibility in these compositions as well as hints of the Manics and Canadian popsters The Pursuit of Happiness.
A criticism may be that the album lacks an overall sense of narrative structure, each song is a statement but there is no arc. This is a minor quibble but like too much of a good thing the lack of variety eventually leads to track skipping. ‘Crash On Your Couch’ stands out for the change of pace alone.
To be taken in small perfect doses
7 out of 10