Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Album Review: THREE; by Numbers

I feel like I should start this review with full disclosure: Numbers is my favorite Seattle band, and one of my favorite bands period, local or national. I also figure that's a safe bet for my first album review. Chances are I won't hate it, but I won't be dishonest either. It helps that theirs is also the most recent album release by a local act that I'm in tune with...

Things start with Shortly Broken, hard and heavy. Right out of the gate they seem to be establishing what this album is going to be about - the mathy chunky riffs I love them for- but it soon moves into a more pop standardized 4/4 double kick riff with clean vocals over the top (as opposed to growling). It may be more appealing to mass audiences but as a metal head, I feel it lacks some edge from the start of the previous self titled album. There's something to be said for putting on an album, hearing it lead with a solid piano intro and then diving into a crazy techno-math-metal-growly explosion, as I found with the beginning on "Ice On Fire", and the only response is an exclamation of "HOLY SHIT!". It almost seems like this three minute song is designed to be an intro track to the rest of the album. It establishes a feel for THREE as a whole, more than standing as a piece of brilliant song writing on it's own.

Empty Eyes definitely pulls at my "retro" (1st album) heart strings more. It has a ridiculously sick intro, more piano incorporated, and more of the bouncing incessantly back and forth between singing and growling that I associate with Numbers, . Empty Eyes also pushes a catchy chorus vocal. I won't deny I walked around for days muttering under my breath "Excuse me, but you got it wrong"... I can't put my finger on it, but this track seems to have more pizazz, more depth, and well written parts than it's predecessor.

And then comes Legal Lee Speaking. Maybe it's how my personal tastes work out, maybe it's designed this way, but on both of their albums the 3rd track hits a special place for me, and I think is clearly the single. (If you haven't heard Bravery, stop reading and listen). It has that edge that's necessary to make me feel slapped in the face, like in the words of Fight Club, "makes be want to kill every panda that won't screw to save it's species". There's an urgency and a dedication that demands LISTEN TO THIS. DO IT. DO IT NOW!!! Pay special attention to the breakdown at 1:38. It has everything that attracts me to Numbers... A chunky break down, with a keyboard underlay and interesting guitar structure pushing the whole thing along.

As the album moves into Fight or Flight, we need to take a moment to face facts. Victor Olavarria is a stud. Seriously. Take a minute to listen, and catch him live. He's one of those freak individuals that piss me off because they have a natural musical gift of talent I never will. I may be a decent player, but i had to work my ass off to get there. It took years of studying, scale assessment and an understanding of how my instrument worked. Victor seems like the kind of guy that sat down and could just play... and then he did the learning on top of it. When you watch him in videos it's that rare combination of fluidity and technique. I once had a gifted "raw talent' drummer say to me "any rock band is only as good as their drummer", and that made sense to me. You could have 7 guitarists riffing all over the place, but if you don't have a drummer that doesn't pull it all together and makes you want to head bang what's the point? Victor has both. if you're looking for a more sequitur example, think Travis Barker of Blink 182. I know, I know, they're a cheesy pop punk band with the annoying high voices, but that doesn't mean he's any less of a bad ass drummer. Seriously, listen to Barker play. He GETS it. So does Victor. No song on the album displays it more than Fight or Flight. He throws in a brilliant command of double kick, but with accents so he doesn't over do it, while remaining patient on the other pieces. He binds it together, as a drummer should, integrating the guitar/bass riffs with the vocals and keeping your head bobbing at the same time. (I found a clip of Victor recording Figured You Forgot; from the first album)

Short note on It's Chilly Out - the dissonant piano is brilliant, and that theme carries throughout the song. They keep ritarding (musical term alert) to that same theme for the duration of the song. It's Chilly Out is a good song, but more importantly shows the musical knowledge of Kyle Bishop, the singer and primary song writer. It doesn't all have to be 4/4 root to 5th to 1 (again, music terms). Stretch! It'll be OK. I'll buy into it.

Undertow... WTF?!!?! It's an epic 11 MINUTE piece, clearly written to stroke ego of those writing it. I don't say that to undermine the songs intentions, I've written 13 minutes songs, sometimes they just come out that way, but what impresses me is that Numbers managed to do it without a stoneresk Pink Floyd interlude in the middle. You don't see that much. And by not much I mean almost never. Especially out of a local act. Undertow clearly demonstrates this bands ability to push their own musical boundaries. I don't care what band you are, there is a vulnerability to a song you have to succumb to in order to write an 11 minute tune. My experience has been that you literally just decide "I'm not in charge anymore" and the song takes you where it's going, whether you want it to or not. i often hear novelists say the same thing, referring to their characters being in control of the author, not the other way around. Songs aren't that much different. Kudos to Numbers letting the song take you. You pulled it off. It works. YOU DONE IT!

Sicken is a fantastic highlight. It's got everything. A little bit of metal, little bit of pop, little bit of techno, little bit of solid piano, even a little bit of what sounds like a marimba. If you know anything about me, I'm a sucker for wicked fast guitar riffs over multi-layered back beat, and Sicken has exactly that. I'm always amazed that those kinds of scale melodics can be written over the top of standardized metal riffs. 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the song they demonstrate all these points. It is possible to have the best of both worlds. Sit back and listen, they'll show you.

While I've spent the last few paragraphs highlighting some of the gems of the album, I must admit I felt like there is something missing from this sophomore release. I fell in love with Numbers because I thought they were just metal enough to be legit, and just poppy enough to appeal to masses... meaning me. I may be a metal head, but I make no secret that I'm incredibly picky about my metal and if it doesn't hit that exact spot, I tend to gravitate away from it. I would recommend THREE to anyone, but it definitely doesn't match up to the self titled album. I think they've hit a little bit of the sophomore struggle seen so often: You've had a lifetime to write the first album, and a year to write a second. It's seems to me they have a bit of a decision to make: Do you focus your appeal to the math-core fans, or the pop-metal fans? Either way, I'll be waiting anxiously.

Solid B: for BUY IT. It's well worth the money to purchase the album. You won't be let down...unless you're like me and the first album changed your life, and you were hoping for a repeat. Sadly, that repeat never comes twice, because it's never quite at just the right time again. Don't get me wrong, I'll enjoy the shit out of this record and 'wear out the wax" (if you're into made up throwback phrases) but it won't replace their first release.

Numbers: THREE can be purchased at:
Band Camp, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon

More Information on Numbers can also be found on their WebsiteFacebook, Twitter, YouTube and Sound Cloud accounts, and be sure to catch them at any (OR ALL) of their upcoming shows.