Champaign, Illinois' Hum is one of the best guitar bands in the world, and like the group's 1995 sleeper hit You'd Prefer An Astronaut, the new Downward Is Heavenward is a monumental rock album, with 10 swollen epics built around Tim Lash and Matt Talbott's massive, diverse array of guitar sounds. Throughout the new record, guitars blast and swoon, shimmer and surge, chime and clamor, without ever devolving into wankery. It helps that Hum has the quiet-loud-quiet-loud thing down cold, allowing its songs to build and release tension at just the right dramatic points. Whether anything on Downward Is Heavenward connects with audiences the way "Stars" did in 1996 remains to be seen—"Green To Me" and "The Scientists" certainly resemble that song at times—but that shouldn't really matter: The album works splendidly as a whole, and as the best ambitious, futuristic, space-themed, science-geek rock album since Radiohead's 1997 masterpiece OK Computer.

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