Saturday, March 2, 2013

Artist Review: The Numbs' "People"

While I apparently missed out on the tenure of U, an industrial collage act composed of Jeff Johnson and Travis Coster, I don’t think I can fully mourn the loss because both artists have gone on to do such awesome work. Coster has been keeping busy as part of the now nationally acclaimed prog-grunge band Naomi Punk, who has just had their first record "The Feeling” (originally on Couple Skate) re-released on Brookyln-based Captured Tracks, while Johnson has been performing instrumental music under the moniker The Numbs. Last year's “People” is Johnson’s first full-length under that name and while the blog-o-sphere paid a lot of attention to the single “Freaks Easy”, I feel like it fell asleep on the rest of the record, which is a crime.  

 So here’s the subjective part: what does it sound like? I guess the popular term is “junk funk” owing in equal parts to the quasi-danceable beats and copy/paste style assimilation of warbling pops, hisses, and whistles. However, while technically accurate, this description still somehow falls short, perhaps because collage work like this is by definition greater than the sum of its parts. I feel like the real strength here lies in Johnson’s ability to effectively craft such an evocative full-length from seeming unrelated pieces—like assembling a complete puzzle from the remains of 50 different throwaways.

The Numbs playing Cairo Seattle for the "People" release show--don't remember the date. 

The result? Ari Spool at Impose described “Freaks Easy” as the perfect soundtrack to a Bill Nye the Science Guy experiment montage, but I keep imagining “People” as the soundtrack to some great maniacal cartoon saga with pieces like “Schaff did it” representing the opening shots, others like “I don’t understand” conveying tragedy, and anthems like “000’0006” and “Brain Case” playing triumphantly behind a victorious protagonist. That interpretation may not resonate with everyone, but the point is that Johnson imparts both function and form to these strange and comical sounds through his skillful arrangements. In fact, its the way in which he manages to do this that most distinguishes him from one of his biggest influences, Black Dice. Regarding BD, Bjorn Copeland himself says, "In the band, there's a weird aesthetic that we nurture that's playful but has a kind of, I don't want to say nihilistic, but a critical point of view". In contrast, Johnson produces music that is hand-dipped in some ill-defined, detached passion that exists outside of this world all together.

 You can still purchase the “People” cassette through the wonderful local label Couples Skate, and don’t forget to see The Numbs in and around our city (note: Numb is a different band)

 Also, if anyone has a copy of any of U’s material beyond what’s available on bandcamp I would really like a copy.

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