When I first heard Human Television's debut, Look at Who You're Talking To, I knew nothing about the band but the sound coming from the speakers: A deafening, hyper-distorted guitar slams in 90 seconds into opening track "I'm Moving On," chased down by Billy Downing's syrup-smacked voice. That subterranean bleat, subsumed in guitars and a reverb chamber, invokes the not-dead ghost of Kevin Shields, four minutes of blissful burn implying shoegazer resurrection all around.
But Human Television isn't so simple: Elsewhere, the band positively shimmers through songs that sound like forgotten early '90s alterna-pop gems, elliptical world-weary poetry riding newfound angst and sick-from-the-drugs attitude as guitars jangle and drums rollick, nervously optimistic.
On first listen, it even sounds like Human Television may be Southern boys with anglophile tastes, dudes with good ol' accents, 76 Sarah Records 7-inches and a clandestine fascination with their parents' record collection. As it turns out, Human Television did a lot of drugs and formed in Gainesville, Fla., before moving to Philadelphia in 2004. It's no accident that their best songs--"People Talking," "Mars Red Rust," "Such a Trip"--glow in the warmth of the panhandle sun. Swagger, soul and a sweaty R.E.M. bounce radiate through guitar glissandi, the top-down, humid-air emancipation of being 16 below the Mason-Dixon grafted onto minor chord changes.
Human Television is second wave, all right, jangly dream pop funneled through the gauze and haze of Slowdive. Really, it's a scene that put out its best records nearly 20 years ago. But this isn't idle idolatry traded for a record deal: Instead, it's music from five dudes who grew up when those bands were the bright and hazy horizon, the prophets of a new gospel unafraid to meld dichotomous discordant noise and mellifluous hooks.
Human Television hasn't extended those influences except to combine them, but they have succeeded in taking music suited for English rain or New York puddles and letting it blister in the Southern sun.
Human Television plays with Cities and Shakermaker at Local 506 on Friday, June 23 at 10 p.m. Tickets are $8.