Grum returns to the long play with long awaited ‘Human Touch’ [Album Review]
The last time that Graeme Shepherd released an album, the year was 2010 and the phrase “EDM” still warranted explanatory parentheses. Now returning to the long play after an equally long hiatus from originals, the artist known as Grum has managed to cut through the noise that grew ever louder in his absence. (Note: Attempts to box this accomplishment in EDM terms may require explanatory parentheses)
Originally due out in October of last year, Human Touch may have missed out on the year of the dance album, but as a body of work it proves to need no dates to tie it in time. Thoroughly modern yet noticeably informed by the past, the 13-track effort taps into timeless themes with the help of Grum’s trusted heart-like beat. The beat skips, soars, whispers and sings, conducting the synth symphony that both encompasses and defies the album’s namesake, but it most noticeably refuses to be nailed down into a genre coffin.Yes, there are traces of progressive (of the initial and intended usage of the term), laps of dreamwave, licks of synthpop and an underlying homage to house, but above all there’s music – this record is intended to be heard, not reviewed. And it begins with the title track.
The album’s opener and first of nine vocal tunes, “Human Touch” manages to quite literally touch on the post-emotional theme that Daft Punk’s own “Touch” so heavy-handedly drove home in their last album. While the French chose theatrics, this Scot presented the idea as a musing question asked with the tip of a hat and a spot of jazz. His tinkling piano is overcome with a swaying synth as the song’s two lyrics swirl around and back, a trend that will repeat itself time and again throughout the mesmerizing seventy minutes. So too will the pattern of no pattern re-emerge.
While second track “Sunrise” is sneaky in its sonic interpretation of the breaking of dawn, previously released “The Theme” offers a peek into the ingredients that will be added in dashes and doses throughout the album. With a non-symmetrical WAV form, the tune has multiple melodies, a boisterous beat that jumps from bass to cymbal to clap and back, and enough synth layers to lose yourself in. Far from intro-build-bridge-reprise, “The Theme,” like every track on the album, seems to rest most heavily on breathtaking collision, where all elements fuse into an unpredictable, agonizingly beautiful whole.
Holding down the third slot, “Raindrop” again offers up two repeating lyrical lines but falls into more proggy territory with phaser-like synths and a patient pulse while the shorter, Trice-released “In Love” after it somehow feels like an epic poem in comparison. With future soul vocals and a piano-backed melody that feels frustratingly familiar, the tune is one of the more direct offerings on the album, but complexity is reintroduced soon thereafter.
A delicious house slice, “Autumn” is chimes in with a beat that evokes gum drops and the blue skies it is dedicated to. Another two-liner, the tune slips from a reverb-heavy blip section to a shimmying sixteenth note shake, both dressed up with vocal distortion and pirouetting melodic clips that quite literally spin around the headphones-wearing listener. Though slightly overshadowed by the recently buzzed-about “Tears” after it, “Autumn” not only straddles genres but lassos in fans from all corners of the musical space.
Strong as a single and still perhaps the most dance floor-ready of Human Touch’s offerings, “Tears” emerged as the fourth single from this long-awaited release with great fanfare, reawakening the BBC airwaves with a gasp of originality and sending the album brightly onto its second half. The honor of flipping to the proverbial B-side goes to “Three Thousand East,” a synthy instrumental story number that evokes Casio nights and sun filtered days before “Everytime” sends listeners back twelve months to when it was first released.
The last chapter of the album is introduced with the subtle shift of “Feel It Everywhere,” a sort of vocoded inspirational anthem reminiscent of Grum’s dreamy early work. “Lotta Love” keeps the vintage vibes coming with synth showers and the by now tested and true A/B vocal pattern before “Serotonin” begins the process of tucking the listener in to sleep with a prayer-like hum and “Eyes Shut” caresses the dreamer before closing the door behind it.
Replayable but not repeatable, a collection of songs and not singles, Grum’s Human Touch will probably not be heard at EDC, Electric Zoo or Tomorrowland. It will, however find a home in the hearts of those anxious for emotion to return to electronic music and depth to again accompany dance: It will find a home in the hearts of those hungry for human touch.
Release Date: April 14th
1. Human Touch
3. The Theme
5. In Love
8. Three Thousand East
10. Feel It Everywhere
11. Lotta Love
13. Eyes Shut