Humbird: Pharmakon

Not everyone likes to be challenged by their music of choice. Some are content to put an album or playlist on and let it run its course as a musical backdrop to whatever forefront activity they are undertaking. And that is an absolutely fine way to listen. Others, though, like to lock arms with an artist and be taken along on every twist and turn of a journey their guide sees fit to introduce.

Humbird’s debut full-length, Pharmakon, can go either way, but fans of the latter variety will, no doubt, get far more from their experience. With this release, singer/songwriter Siri Undlin has woven an intricate tapestry of ideas. Even the title is a Plato-defined philosophical theory dripping with complexity, meaning that something can be a remedy, poison, or a scapegoat, depending on the circumstance.

With that much settled (or not), Humbird’s next level of accomplishment is with what’s underneath that title. First off, her crystalline voice is thoroughly enchanting and Shane Leonard’s inventive production is sparse, but supportive, never over-stepping but ever under-girding. Then come the songs.

To craft these compositions, Humbird largely turned to various women-centered myths, fairytales, and legends — Biblical and otherwise — and brought them forward into the here and now to see how their inhabitants might hold up in this brave new world of ours. From Eve to Alice, Persephone to Undlin, herself, the heroines, in Humbird’s hands, speak to the truth of their experiences at the whims and through the gaze of a patriarchal world seeking to control them.

But, as with the album title, Humbird cloaks all these tales in gauzy poetics. While she knows what she means by things, she’s left room for listeners to interpret, inject, and overlay for themselves. Either which way, her delivery makes for an absolutely hypnotic listening experience, whether you accept it’s deep-dive challenge or not.