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Music Review: HMPH!'s 'Headrush'

Courtesy HMPH!

Headrush (Haymaker Records)

Hearing the instrumental math rock HMPH! is like watching a mastermind play an intense game of Tetris. Like blocks, notes keep coming with no indication of where they will fall, making the band’s debut album, Headrush, an unpredictable journey.

The band consists of guitarist Ryan Lee Toms and drummer Jonathan Thatch, who says he interprets the name as “someone’s response the first time they heard one of our songs. They’ll be like, ‘HMPH? Not sure what to think about that.’”

The sound is so complex it appeals to people who like dissecting music. Every play peals away a layer lush with detail, revealing a new note or beat. Yet the absence of lyrics may increase the risk of unfocused listeners zoning out to hear only fast, aggressive rock. Headrush is loaded with rapid time signature and key changes, but its simple chords also hint at basic pop structure. Like a good piece of visual art, it welcomes interpretation.

A vocalist might appear in the future, but Headrush is complete without words. Toms’ five guitar pedals work as hard as he does; in “Stories Untold,” he stomps on a loop pedal to repeat a bass-like rhythm and then clicks it again to add a mid-tone lick. A final shredding solo paints the illusion of a bigger band, while Thatch drums unplugged. It’s a well-crafted contrast.

Thatch teamed up with Toms three years ago. Soon, they’ll be joined by fretless bass player Devin McCollum, formerly of Adriana And The Panic. McCollum’s elaborate style should blend exquisitely with HMPH!s intricate compositions, which warrant an instrument as versatile as a fretless bass.

Hannah Copeland is an announcer and arts contributor at KCUR. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahecopeland.

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