Named after a small dot of a town in central Wisconsin, Humbird is the creative guise of Siri Undlin, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis. After a series of well-received EPs and extensive touring (either solo, as part of a duo or with a full band), Humbird has now released her first full-length album, Pharmakon (the concept that something can either be a poison or a cure, depending on how much is consumed).
Pharmakon is a hugely imaginative, engaging and timeless set of songs, drawing on ancient myths, Nordic fairy tales and biblical references, weaving in vignettes and poetic imagery from Siri Undlin’s own life experience. The songs are appealingly ambient and lo-fi, with Undlin’s expressive acoustic and electric guitar set against tasteful washes of brass, double bass, piano, pedal steel and keys, with the up-tempo passages sounding all the more exciting for the restraint that has gone before. Shane Leonard’s skilful production ensures that the layers and textures of the music never get in the way of Siri Undlin’s pure and crystal-clear vocals, which give the album a real intimacy, warmth and directness.
All of the songs on this album are gems in their own right and they also fit together beautifully as a coherent collection, so the songs I’m about to highlight are simply examples of the overall excellence on offer here. In Wolf Alice, gently strummed acoustic guitar, punctuated by delicate shards of electric guitar and reverby guitar fills, provide a backdrop to the gentle caress of Siri Undlin’s vocals and the quietly commanding choruses. Eve Boards A Train is an expansive and contemplative acoustic ballad, featuring elegant vocals, pulsing double bass, flourishes of horns and pleasing changes of tempo. Title track Pharmakon is a delicious slice of American folk, carried along by Undlin’s sparkling vocals and sprightly, ‘rise and fall’ guitar-picking.
In a typically bold arrangement, Bone Heat begins with gently burbling electronic effects, giving way to some mesmerising percussion as a backdrop to gloriously expressive vocals. Persephone, meanwhile, is a slow-burning masterpiece, notable for Undlin’s gently soaring vocals, punchy horn riffs, rippling bass, washes of moody trumpet and a quietly thrilling quickening of pace halfway through.
With Pharmakon, Humbird has delivered a remarkable debut album. Siri Undlin’s beautifully-crafted songs reward repeated listens and produce a lasting impact.
Pharmakon is out and available now.