It helps to check expectations at the door when approaching Glenn Mercer’s surprising and delightful new solo lp, “Incidental Hum”. Sure, there is a bit of the urgent jangle of the Feelies’ leader’s work with his main band, but these are instrumental pieces that show off Mercer’s compositional prowess first and guitar heroics second. Composed and recorded alone, the twelve originals here create an aural travelogue of sorts, name-checking places whose image, essence or memory inform the sounds that Mercer confidently coaxes from his guitar, synths and other assorted instruments. The Western motif of “Yuma” perfectly encapsulates the arid feeling of its titular Arizona namesake, while “Mobile’s” chugging and squealing guitar pays tribute to the rich and greasy musical legacy of the region, equidistant to Muscle Shoals and New Orleans. This is music steeped in tradition, highly academic while maintaining a practitioner’s heart and muscle.
Even more fascinating are the trio of cover songs that close out the record. The languid synths and sleigh bells “Over the Rainbow” sound like one of R.E.M.’s early-aughts b-side explorations and bleed into a church-organ indebted cover of Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”. Best of all is the murky, extended concluding cover of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” – when Mercer’s squalling and unhinged lead cuts through the drum machines and rhythm at the 3-minute mark, it is nothing short of thrilling, and is evidence why he remains an inspiration to indie rock guitarists to this day.