The Humanist is Rob Marshall of Exit Calm’s first solo project since that band split back in 2015. His first solo album under the moniker reminds me of those UNKLE or Death In Vegas type of records from the turn of the century where a electronica-based production team partners with a series of guest vocalists from the alternative rock world. Longtime Midnight To Six favorite Mark Lanegan is a major presence here, providing lead vocals on four of the fifteen tracks. The pairing makes a lot of sense since Marshall wrote and recorded parts of Lanegan’s last two albums, Gargoyle and Somebody’s Knocking, both of which are highly recommended. The Humanist songs Lanegan sings, and the whole album, are very much in the same atmospheric ’80s post-punk vein of his prior collaborations with Marshall, which is a good thing. Lanegan spits tales of ghosts and medicines on “Kingdom,” while the backing tracks sounds like Kraftwerk-via-Iggy Pop’s The Idiot; and he sounds completely wild on the track that follows, “Beast Of The Nation.” As great as his four vocal features are, Lanegan’s biggest contribution may have been his Rolodex, which helped Marshall get Dave Gahan to do the vocals on “Shock Collar.” I never really cared much for Depeche Mode, but Gahan sounds like he’s on fire here. Credit Marshall’s production too, as it perfectly matches Gahan’s stadium-sized performance.
The album is terribly long (sixty-seven minutes) and so single-minded in its dedication to moody post-punk atmospheres that it’s not a fun listen. At time it can feel downright oppressive, but there are at least some different shades of grey sprinkled in throughout to hold your interest, like when John Robb of The Membranes adds some much needed intimacy by whispering his way through “English Ghost,” while Marshall locks in to a “She’s Lost Control”-style atmospheric groove for the song’s eight-plus minutes, or when Carl Hancock Rux channels Gil Scott-Heron on “Mortal Eyes.” The album’s biggest, and most pleasant, surprise is “When The Lights Go Out,” a shoegaze-y number featuring Mark Gardener of Ride on vocals. Having Mark Gardener sing a guitar-driven song isn’t a particularly novel idea, but the song is so far superior to anything Ride (a band I love) has done since reforming in 2015 that it feels like a major victory. I can imagine Marshall (whose guitar playing is often shoegaze-adjacent) being all smiles while working with Gardener on this one.
Fans of the makers of this album will find some strong highlights throughout, and no real low points. Recommended.