Humans Etcetera, originally based out of the West Virginia area, is essentially a one man band. Christopher Henry has worked with full bands and scattered collaborators since his band project first debuted with 2013’s Scatter Bomb and has charted a wildly artistic, but unpredictable, course since its founding. The latest full length release from Humans Etcetera, Cold Summer Tongs, is a thirteen song release that Henry describes as encompassing elements of grunge, stoner rock, post punk, and mathrock with an introspective edge. There’s a conceptual structure shaping the songwriting and tracking, but it isn’t nearly as important as the individual songs. This is a decidedly DIY affair, but the ambiance of its recording circumstances contributes to the overall feel and clearly renders Henry’s imaginative intentions.
“Leftovers” is one of the album’s shorter tracks and opens the release with electronic textures laid over the top of dramatic percussion. There are a handful of diving bombing guitar fills dropping in during the song’s initial passages, but the song quickly explodes into a dissonant cloud of sound with Henry’s voice in the maelstrom’s center. Electronically treated spoken word ends the release with a brief coda. Listeners return to more familiar musical surroundings with the soothing acoustic guitar strains beginning “Denmark”. There’s a lightly psychedelized pop air to this song reinforced by airy, dream-like harmonies casting a ghostly vocal counterpoint. The lyrical guitar playing gives it a decisively different slant than the first song and Henry’s audience may experience a bit of figurative whiplash, but it is a deeply satisfying piece.
“iLost It” might remind some of pop-influenced indie rock given a more cluttered, intense treatment than mainstream artists would be willing to provide. Henry’s wont is to bury his voice a little too deeply in the mix, but he’s clearly a capable singer on this sort of material and it comes through despite his best efforts to mask it. “Summer Gold” is one of the album’s more interesting lyrics and manages to cover a wide variety of musical styles in less than four minutes. The arrangement takes in everything from cascading guitar passages shockingly reminiscent of Steve Howe’s playing with English prog rockers Yes before seamlessly segueing into a much more ferocious, punk-rooted musical attack. There’s some twisted variation on Johnny Cash’s opening lines for “Folsom Prison Blues” in the horrific first lines of Henry’s “Accidente” and the ensuing urgent punk rock attack underlines the song’s uncompromising stance. It’s definitely a stab in the direction of dark comedy and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but thankfully that knowledge does nothing to weaken its intensity.
“Love Potion” is a brilliantly inflamed, stormy blast of raucous rock with an appropriately anguished Henry vocal. He’s a little higher in the mix this time and his voice really locks in quite well with the careening instruments. This is jaded lyric accounting of the vagaries of love and Henry’s lyric strikes the right balance between specific details, a few tropes of the form, and generalities. The album’s penultimate and longest track, “Picky”, might recall the earlier “Denmark”, but the music is much more expansive here and the extended running time allows Henry a chance to patiently develop musical themes. Cold Summer Tongs is certainly challenging for even hardcore music fans, but that’s the sort of audience who will fully appreciate his efforts here. Humans Etcetera is one of the hidden marvels on the indie music scene for more than their commitment to upending expectations; anyone can ignore the rules. It takes a different skill set, however, to transform musical fundamentals and expectations to your own ends and still communicate a personal, coherent artistic statement, but Christopher Henry’s Humans Etcetera clears that bar with room to spare.
9 out of 10 stars