Vancouver B.C.’s own, Stephen Hamm is at it again. He has in fact, been a staple in his city’s music scene for decades. A multi-instrumentalist by trade, he’s been involved in fronting several touring bands over the years and been the subject of numerous press pieces and articles to boot. So, what’s the story here you ask? Hamm has released a concept album of original material featuring a theremin, an esoteric musical instrument, played with your hands, but never touching the instrument itself; it works on heterodyning and capacitance (don’t google this, you’ll short circuit).
The theremin and its off-shoots have been captivating listeners with its eerie, hollow, slinky qualities since the 1920s. Think Star Trek theme or Good Vibrations from the Beach Boys, but then forget all that, because those aren’t actually theremins, just vocals and instruments meant to emulate one. From the avant garde to modern pop music, it’s heard quite often but usually overlooked. The theremin has its virtuosos too (do google this, it’s amazing).
Stephen Hamm is quickly joining the deft with regards to this instrument. So why not pick one up and write a conceptual album based entirely on this instrument? Why not call the album, Theremin Man? Well there’s a ton of obvious reasons not to, but Stephen Hamm has not revealed any of these. What you’ll find throughout Theremin Man is pieces of well-crafted, well-written and well-performed musical drama.
The November 5th release showcases the theremin but without making you never wanting to hear one again, quite the contrary, it may even open other avenues of discovery for adventurous music fans – a quality that not enough music possesses. So, you’re probably wanting to hear what’s on the album right? I digress. Theremin Man is set against a backdrop of retro, electronic rhythms, plodding and toiling their way along its interstellar course. Analog synth bass lines, thick, spacey reverbs and orchestral sections appear and disappear at all the right moments. It’s Eno, the B-52s and Yaz auras shine brightly throughout the album and are skillfully presented and patiently await the guest of honor’s musical entrance and exit. Hamm meticulously weaves his theremin in and out of 9 very different sonic scenarios, paradoxically holding the project together with an instrument that never touches his hands. There are incredible melodies here, check Stranger Friends and Analogue Pluck, these songs present memorable lines and poignant musical ideas. Some tracks are instrumentals, some include vocals like standout songs, Another Planet and Space Sister.
Stephen Hamm expertly mixes instrumentals and vocal tracks together on this album; there is just enough of both. His spiritual lyrics and cosmic ideology are just a welcome addition to the package. Theremin Man is by far the best concept album I have heard from an indie artist in years. It’s worth visiting Stephen Hamm’s orbit for a few trips around sun. We’ll be wondering what’s next from this artist and that’s just the way he likes it.
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Chris Ambrosino hails from the Catskill region of New York and has been a performer and songwriter since 1987. He also has worked as an art director and graphic artist for several organizations. Chris currently plays and writes for indie band, Blue Ribbon and is a contributing writer for the Alt. Daily blog and For The Love Of Bands website. He has resided in Hampton Roads, VA since 1994.