Loud, distorted guitars, so prominent in the age of The White Stripes, seem to have deserted the indie rock landscape, replaced by samplers, loops, effects pedals, sensors, vocoders, keys, keytars, laptops, and other tools that tend to justify one-man-band setups for outfits that, in past years, likely would have consisted of four or five members. For classic indie rock/grunge fans, this slow sea change couldn’t be more pronounced, Dinosaur Jr. devotees slowly drowning in the inevitable forms of digital decay brought on by the button-pushers. Does this explain why so many have decamped to the metal side, because they miss their guitars? Not fully, but it might be worth investigating.
In the meantime, Dumb Numbers’ self-titled joint has gotcha covered and even features members of Di-Jo (Murph and Lou Barlow, to be exact) and Melvins (Dale Crover gut-pounds a track or two), two of the bands that, against all odds, have maintained their fanbases amid the changes of the last decade. They, along with principal Dumb Number, Australian Adam Harding, truck in the huge, lumbering, buzz-inducing RIFF-raff you’ve been craving, albeit never at the expense of the vocals (not sure how this will work in concert), calmly delivered by Harding yet eternally hovering above the mix like the ghost of Elliott Smith. The mixture of tubby, hardscrabble riffs/rhythms and soothing singing bring about a juxtaposition both familiar and practically familial for those raised on original indie rock.
The one qualm I have rests with the downtrodden, crestfallen feeling permeating every crease of the arrangements. During teenagehood, such emotional brushstrokes hit disturbingly close to home, statements like “It’s worse than you think” sounding almost like a surreal battle cry directed at those who are too old/privileged/”normal” to understand. As an adult, however, it falls a little flat. And at what point do lyrics like “Pain, anger and regret/ Now I just want to forget […] I’ve resigned myself to being alone” (from “Evil Has Grown”) descend from frank observation into the depths of self-pity? If there’s a saving grace, it’s the semblance of variety that breaks up the record’s nine tracks, with cuts like the solo, piano-led “The Broken Promise” (a doppelganger to Death Cab’s “Little Furry Bugs”) and “Last Night I Fell in Love With the Stars” offering, if not a respite from the doldrums, a different permutation of them.
If you’re one of the many overjoyed at Sebadoh’s new material and/or glum at the prospects of an entirely electronic future for indie rock, Dumb Numbers is blessed with a tractor beam that will pull you, and anyone close to you, into its orbit with ease.