Humor is a solid debut of sophisticated synth-pop that uses minimalism to maximum effect.
There’s a strong bond that connects Bronski Beat’s 1984 single “Smalltown Boy” and “Home,” the lead track on 2021’s Humor by PEI-born/Montreal-based musician Russell Louder. Beyond the similarity in two songs’ musical blueprints (sophisticated synth-pop that uses minimalism to maximum effect), there is a thematic connection that challenges us to reconsider and recontextualize the idea of “home.” For “Smalltown Boy”’s protagonist, home stopped being home the moment he realized “the love that [he needs] will never be found [there].” In Louder’s case, home is a moving target. The song starts with a sudden burst of awareness: “How did I come to stay / This isn’t what I’m used to,” they sing in a rhythm and cadence that suggest darting eyes and head swivelling side to side with the growing sense that they need to start moving soon. Whether it’s Bronski Beat’s titular character leaving in the morning with everything he owns in a little black case or Louder’s narrator asking, “where does this road begin / ‘Cause I’ve been wandering / Too far for far too long,” we are all constantly searching for a sense of self, place, and purpose.
Continuing the Conversation
20 or 20 Ep. 025: Russell Louder: Russell Louder on the musical traditions of Prince Edward Island, singing, their sense of humour, and preparing to play Humor live post-pandemic.
It’s fitting that Louder’s debut full-length, Humor, opens with “Home,” a song they describe as “a question, not an answer,” no more a destination than an origin. It matters not one iota where we start or where we end: the payoff — in life as on Humor — happens between points. Louder sounds both haunted and hopeful on “Cost of Living” (first released as a single in 2018), as their peerless voice floats through their range with ease and precision. Its lyrical motifs of hiding, searching, and looking for veiled meanings behind actions and words pop up on “Hello Stranger” and “Light of the Moon” (Humor’s other two previously released songs). These three songs act as a kind of anchor through the album’s labyrinth of cleanly produced introspective electro-pop. “Outside” and “Lavender” counter the sombre tones of their early work with the bright interplay between their voice and musical arrangements, offering balance to the sterility of electronics with the kind of earworm hooks that stick in your head for weeks. The former is radiant pop without being sentimental, the latter an LCD Soundsystem-styled celebration of infectious groove and minimal melody.
True to form, “Go Now” is not where you’d expect Humor to end based on where “Home” starts, but that’s the whole point. “Go Now” is a daydream set to music that feels more like a junction than an endpoint. It’s the album’s shortest track and the only one that sounds unfinished or incomplete; it’s the carrot Louder uses to lure us beyond our expectations to consider Humor as one leg of a grander musical exploration.