[11 June 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Best Sci-Fi Pop-Folk-Electronic Hybrid
People who’ve never been there might hear “Kansas City” and think Dorothy and Toto or, if somewhat more enlightened, jazz and barbecue. But there are more progressive things going on there than you might expect. In their own humble and low-key way, the Kansas City, Missouri-based trio Namelessnumberheadman have been blazing a trail that solidifies the invisible bridge between far-off galaxies and rural landscapes. They take heartfelt, melodic pop songs with a folk-ish acoustic tinge and swirl them into futuristic, electronic soundscapes. Their songs are both ear-pleasing and exploratory; you can hum along and feel like you’ve been transported somewhere new. As critic Scott Wilson aptly put it in a recent Magnet review, “if the group called Iceland home, it would end up on the cover of The Wire.”
Named after a character in Steven Soderbergh’s film Schizopolis, the group has an anything-goes approach that allows ample room for surprise. Sometimes the best way to go somewhere new is to do whatever you want and see where it takes you. Yet their music also has a down-to-earth quality, as if they’re your best friends or next-door neighbors. Their lyrics tackle real-life longings in an ambiguous way that leaves room for interpretation. Introspection and mystery meet in the lyrics and the music, as do emotion and innovation. They hit you in the heart while lifting you off into space.
Andrew Sallee, Chuck Wittington, and Jason Lewis have been known as Namelessnumberheadman since the year 2000, though they’ve known each other since high school and two of them made music together back then. They made their name in Kansas City through an action-packed live show which blew away even casual observers and a $5, 6-song CD (100,000 Subtle Times) that those observers took home and obsessed over. Playing at a variety of venues around KC, with some of the city’s best acts, the group soon received praise from writers at the local newsweekly, Pitch Weekly, which in 2002 named the group “Best Electronic/DJ/Dance” act. The fact that they play with traveling indie-rock groups and local rock acts yet can be classified as “electronic” is a testament to the way they’re combined disparate sounds into one unclassifiable musical animal.
Their live shows start with Andrew on drums, Chuck playing both guitar and keyboards, and Jason playing keyboards and other devices, but they’re likely to switch instruments mid-song, managing to create more sounds than three people should be able to. While 100,000 Subtle Times was an impressive introduction to the group’s sound, their local reputation was solidified with the release of their first full-length, When We Leave, We Will Know Where We’ve Been, released in 2002 on local Urinine Records. That album amplified everything they do; it was bigger, more layered, more ambitious and more beautiful. It was praised by local press and even slipped onto the Village Voice Pazz & Jopp Poll due to the unabashed love of it by a couple of critics. And it’s an easy album to love. Rich textures and loads of atmosphere meet sharply crafted songs. The sonic confidence that album exudes seems like a stepping stone to great, magical things. Namelessnumberheadman is still very much a Kansas City band—they’re played only a handful of shows outside of the area—yet it’s only a matter of time before their name is known everywhere.