On Record – James Ellis Ford: The Hum (Warp Records)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

James Ellis Ford has a most impressive musical CV, whether on the front line or behind the scenes. As an active member of Simian, Simian Mobile Disco and The Last Shadow Puppets, he has never been short of a burning riff or two. These two very different musical outfits enjoyed a more progressive form of rock and then a searing, acidic complement to The Chemical Brothers.

As a producer, Ford has lent production savvy to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Foals, Klaxons and Jessie Ware among others, and most recently played a big part behind the scenes on Depeche Mode’s new album Memento Mori. He has also produced the upcoming Blur album, The Ballad Of Darren. With all that work in the bank, his first solo album proper – on which he plays all the instruments – could be seen as time off from the day job! Yet it is a meaningful achievement, and clearly good enough for a label as illustrious as Warp to sign him up.

What’s the music like?

Largely unscripted – in the best possible way. Ford’s musical diary to date has shown his ability to move between genres with no effort, and The Hum does this while sticking to a principle of pure musical enjoyment. On occasion the approach is reminiscent of his early days in Simian, when they used to support bands such as Emerson Lake & Palmer.

It is good to hear James singing as well as playing all the instruments, for his voice fits in well with either the psychedelic approach or the pastoral one. I Never Wanted Anything is quite sweetly harmonic in this regard, while The Yips is a brilliant contrast, its creeping riff leaning towards progressive rock.

Pink Floyd cast an attractive shadow – Us and Them especially – as Tape Loop #7 and Pillow Village establish the mood of the album, and on Golden Hour a rich multi-layered vocal comes forward. Squeaky Wheel glints with a touch of the industrial – with passing references that flit between pastoral contentment and the abrasion of Cabaret Voltaire.

A pair of instrumentals in the middle hit the spot. The woozy title track lulls the listener into a false sense of security before Ford goes all-out funk and prog in equal parts, a loping groove and chunky synthesizers giving Caterpillar rich slabs of colour.

Ford moves through the gears on Emptiness, another eventful number, before the soft, warm postlude Closing Time, with a melody that uncannily shadows the Neighbours theme tune.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is very little padding here, and Ford has plenty of interesting ideas – so the mind and ears are always stimulated.

Is it recommended?

Yes, with enthusiasm. Pretty much everything Ford has been involved with has musical vitality and progression, and this solo album is no exception. With any luck it is the start of a series, rather than a one-off.