James Ellis Ford / The Hum / Warp Records

Taking its name from an environmental sub-harmonic phenomena, and built upon tape loops and drones, James Ellis Ford (of Simian Mobile Disco fame)’s debut solo album, The Hum, in places, sounds a lot like a lost Brian Eno LP*. Constructed around tape loops, which were created in exactly the same way as those used by Eno and Robert Fripp on No Pussyfooting, the pieces, originally 20 to 30 minutes in length, have been edited, and in several cases shaped into “proper” songs. 

The drones have their root in flute, vibraphone, bass clarinet and e-bow guitar. Occasionally the sound of these sources bleeds through – a  treated tremolo twang, or a flash of free-jazz meets early Roxy skronk. An accomplished producer, with credits that run from Arctic Monkeys and Gorillaz to Soulwax and Jesse Ware, Mr. Ford played everything himself. Recording the music in his attic studio during a period of domesticity, dictated in part by becoming a dad, the pandemic, and the health issues of this long-standing musical partner, Jas Shaw. 

The compositions captured, “first thought, best thought”, in one take, as well as Eno, also pay tribute to the late `60s Canterbury Scene. Records that James grew up listening to his father spin, by Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, and Soft Machine. This is made particularly plain on the outstanding instrumental, Pillow Village. Its drums worthy of David Axelrod overhauling The Electric Prunes. 

Caterpillar is the fierce funk, rock riffs, power chords and all, of King Crimson’s In The Wake Of Poseidon. Yes’ Heart Of The Sunrise. The Yips pairs a Can-like rhythm – a pitched down Halleluwah or Vitamin C – with a Middle Eastern, dancing dervish, psyche melody – inspired by a trip to Palestine, tracing Ford’s wife’s ancestry. 

James` singing voice sits, sensitively, somewhere between Brian and poor, bruised Syd Barrett. His lyrics though, are far more “linear”, more traditionally structured, than those of either icon. The angular post-glam, prog-pop, arrangement of I Never Wanted Anything, for example, hides a heartfelt ode to love. Golden Hour, amid harpsichord-like keys, Beach Boys / Wilson Brothers harmonies, and a vintage synth solo, reaches for satori, and describes that moment when, in meditation, or on a psychedelic trip, enlightenment, clarity, glimpsed, quickly slips away. Emptiness too touches on this, questioning the boundaries we put around things, including ourselves – “the stories we tell” – to try to rationalize the world, reality, to try to feel safer in it. 

*James describes Eno’s Another Green World as a “Desert Island Disc”.

James Ellis Ford’s The Hum is out today, on Warp Records. 

James Ellis Ford The Hum

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One thought on “James Ellis Ford / The Hum / Warp Records

  1. I HAVE to mention this – listen to final track ‘Closing Time’. Is that is is that not the Neighbours theme tune he’s singing?


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