[7 March 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you know what was? This self-released, self-financed debut album from Brooklynites Josh Abbott and Mike Fadem, formerly of the Jealous Girlfriends. Vacationland was recorded in the space of 24 hours, although there was some fussing with the album’s mixing and overdubs that took several months in Abbott’s living room. The end result is a frantic confection of ‘80s-style indie rock that recalls, at least upfront, the work of the Pixies in its soft-loud dynamics. There’s a great deal of ear candy here, especially on the one-two punch of the galloping opening track, “Death and Dying”, and its follow-up, “Hinterlands”, which actually has a reggae break halfway through. There’s a little flash of late ‘70s David Bowie to be heard, along with the punky swagger of Iggy Pop. The six-minute “Islands” even comes off as a sort of low-key Simple Minds tune, the kind of thing that might have been soundtracked to a John Hughes film. Continuing in that vein, “Creature Comforts” has ‘80s-style synth stabs and a forlorn guitar ripped right from the Smiths’ songbook, which feels a little out of place considering the album’s rocking opening.
Overall, New Numbers is basically reinventing the wheel, but the tunes are generally catchy and the band knows its way around a good hook. What weighs the album down is the feeling that some of the lyrics were written in, well, let’s just say a very short period of time. “Creature Comforts” is a somewhat cloying track about the animal kingdom taking over the human race, and “Verbal” contains the following bland and banal prose—which is so mawkish that the band somehow felt obligated to repeat it again after its introduction, holding a flashlight up to how flat and uninspiring it is—“When I was a child / They called me Verbal / All the teachers said / That’s not normal”. I know that you don’t generally come to rock music looking for T.S. Eliot, but these dudes really have to figure out how to emote an honest emotion. If you overlook that shortfall, however, New Numbers is just another fun band that knows how to rock out. You’ll find yourself nodding your head along to Vacationland, and, overall, the record is musically well-constructed. There’s a little spit and polish missing from what the band’s trying to say, though, and the unfortunate truth is that you’ll probably forget about the album after, say, a day—unless, of course, you tune out the singing and concentrate instead on some of the gorgeous melodies to be found throughout.