The Underground Stream, the new album by Athens quartet Ham1, is wrought with spontaneity and brims with effortless, nonchalant performances. It's a brief 28 minutes full of studio-orchestrated front-porch pop songs that smack of California harmony on a rainy day. Given the record's bevy of melodious songs and instantly likable plain-sailing presentation, the band's decision to release this—their third record—on local art-punk label Infinity Cat forges an alliance with Athens that Nashville should welcome with open arms of Steve Perry proportions.
It's a decision that was fostered when the band developed an affinity for some of the city's off-kilter local rock chestnuts, like Dave Cloud and The Mattoid. But despite their fascination with circa-now Nashville, Ham1 are Athens through and through. Having released their previous record The Captain's Table on Orange Twin, played as a backing band for Vic Chesnutt and Liz Durrett, and sharing a member with Elf Power and Olivia Tremor Control, they have more in common with their local Elephant 6 faction than with Nashville's hard-working misfits of the DIY underground—Infinity Cat, best known as a home to more abrasive acts like JEFF the Brotherhood and Heavy Cream.
Luckily, The Underground Stream is a good fit for the label nonetheless. With its four-part harmonies, acoustic guitars, folk-rock leanings and flirtations with tropicalia and easy listening, it's as serene and moody an offering as Infinity Cat is likely to put out, but it also provides a well needed yin to a band like JEFF's yang.
Every single song on this ramshackle record sounds effortlessly spirited, relaxed and resolved—even darker moments like those found in "Toothless Front Lines." Opener "Will You Ever" sounds like Pavement's "Range Life" but with a Southern Gothic warmth that has a calming effect as immediate as a dose of Valium. Instrumental cuts such as "Mel Bay," "Begonia" and the closing title track go by with such pleasing ease that it isn't until they're over that you realize there weren't even vocals. "Thalyacine" brings to mind the jangly post-punk roots of their city's favorite sons ,R.E.M., while the brisk country slow-dance of "This Is Your Life," like the record's wistful calm, is a sonic reminder of life's small pleasures—Ham1 among them. This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen for anyone who makes their way to the band's official website—www.ham1.org—to download it for free.
Ham1 join ex-MEEMAW co-frontman Daniel Pujol in supporting a rare appearance by the ever-elusive Clem Snide.
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