The Parkway Theater hosted a special event of Humbird’s “Hymn For Whom” collaboration last evening. The event combined the storytelling of Siri Undlin’s (aka Humbird) new album entitled Still Life with the visual expertise of Erik and Sarah Elstran. The 36-minute film is a record of creativity during a year spent at home during the pandemic. The collaboration speaks volumes on our communion of friends, how the world around us changed, and ultimately an introspective voice of how to change coming out of it. Attendees were treated to a first listen through of all 10 tracks set alongside a visual storytelling film. The new album is officially set to be released on October 15th.
The film opens with a kaleidoscope of images. Clouds, trees, water, and rocks swarmed across the screen. The constant movement of pictures continued as Siri’s distinctly intimate voice kicked into the title track “Hymn For Whom” and a hint at fire popped onscreen. The second song into the album progressed with a collection of horns, strings, and all the layers that Humbird does so well. Speaking about wishing someone well, washing away pain and the things we don’t understand, the main line that stuck out to me was, “What if all the things we lose come back to us someday?”
This set the framework for the next line of songs. Hearing themes of compassion and love for others while the harsh reality of walls, loss, and the hardships of separation moved throughout the album. “Stone Giant” supplied the most orchestral blossom in the new material, while “Standing In The Way” provided the most memorable lyric with “We move on like waves of prairie grass.”
The visual counterpart remained images from the outdoors. Waves, sea foam, and moss covered rocks made appearances that provided a powerful abstract of permanence to the songs speaking of the uncertainty of our world. This balance of constantly moving images with Humbird’s close-knit stories fit well together.
Each song provided a different element and angle of the pandemic, often in indirect ways. Siri’s ability to poetically handle heavy subjects with her intimately soft voice is expertly exemplified in “Pink Moon for John Prine”. The song connects to a friend that’s lost her father and the greatest gift she got was time as the days melted into weeks. The weight of those lines is something almost everyone can relate to over the course of the past year. Siri navigates the pandemic without bringing politics into every discussion, while focusing more on the sentimentality of the situations.
I was lucky enough to hear “On The Day We Are Together Again” during our Music in Minnesota One-On-One experience. In the empty 331 Club, there was a feeling that was quickly reproduced in the filled Parkway Theater when that song played. The song is hopeful and filled with optimism and healing. It’s about gratitude for our healers, and helping our neighbors. It’s about returning as better people when this is all over. Watching that message cover the audience is nourishment that we’ve all missed during the pandemic.
Following the short film was a bonus live performance from the trio of Humbird (Siri Undlin, Pat Keen, and Pete Quirsfeld). The 12 song set was had plenty of new songs with gems from her last release Pharmakon. “Right On” gave us a bout of delusional hope and optimism, while “Fast Food” showed the frustrations and monotony of interstate drives. We even saw a new expansion into a rock song with “Cornfields and Roadkill.”
“You get mad enough at the things around you during a global pandemic and you write rock songs,” Siri shared.
We witnessed a jazzy, vulnerable love song about wanting to be “fresh water for you.” The buildup on drums from brushes to sticks, while the upright bass became a fast-plucked solo showcased another new potential avenue for Humbird’s music was exciting. Also wedged into the set was a faster song with a 331 Club reference. Siri shared that Pat has been begging her to write an uptempo song for the past 6 years. Now she has one.
The importance of having venues open in our community was staring at us last night. Every local artist needs the room and space to experiment with new music, feel the response, and develop material. No matter how talented any artist is, these spaces provide a safe environment to grow, speak, and flesh out their music. Watching and hearing the fresh songs also gives you something to look forward to, knowing the new paths are being built.
Mark your calendars now as Humbird will be at the Icehouse every Wednesday in November before the official release of Still Life on October 15th.