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THE HUMMING FIELD • The Humming Field

There's absolutely nothing ordinary about journeyman Massachusetts guitarist/producer Matt Cullen's long-awaited solo debut, The Humming Field, a richly textured dozen-track set that frequently evokes the beatific buzz of XTC's most riveting work.

Cullen, who's collaborated onstage and/or in the studio with (among others) The Sighs, Kevin Salem, and most recently Ware River Club, artfully conveys a broad range of meaning by using every poetic tool at his disposal. Like XTC and other obvious reference-point musicians from both sides of the Atlantic such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Spirit, he crafts a distinctive sonic vocabulary all his own, a language that's stark and emotionally precise at times, awe-inspiring and mysterious at others.

Tracks of particular note on the self-released indie gem include "I Didn't Know," launched by a growling electric guitar intro into liquid layers of brainy and brawny prog-rock without pretension. "Nothing But Alone" features a gauzy Cullen vocal laid over a galloping folk-rock foundation to stirring effect, and "Air So Empty" explores similar supple melodic territory with an amped up propulsive thrust. In a connected vein flows "Underwater," a pastoral instrumental that showcases trad acoustic grandeur in a taut rhythmic framework. 

If two songs best capture Cullen's angular approach at its most arresting, they would be "Empty Pockets," an edgy, surge-and-whisper tug of war, and "The Therapy Song," three and a half minutes of tightly coiled menace and snarl.

There's no dead air in The Humming Field, only sound with a purpose and enough levels to explore to keep attentive ears engaged for many listens to come. • Mike Thomas

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The Humming Field live is Matt Cullen on guitar, Don McAulay on drums, and Kathranne Knight on bass, with vocals from each.

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