If you believe the legend, Adam Harding, to many a complete unknown, collected some of the gods of alternative rock to release his first album under the name Dumb Numbers. If you believe the legend, he got Lou Barlow and Murph from Dinosaur, Jr., Dale Crover from the Melvins, Bobb Bruno from Best Coast, and CR Matheny from Emperor X. If you’ve never heard of these bands (Emperor X?) trust that they’re very influential. But that’s only if you believe the legend. In fact, all those performers really are part of Dumb Numbers, fronted by Adam Harding, a seeming novice thrust into the world of rock. Not enough? He even got David Lynch to do the album art? Yes, he did.
First, in a never-before seen exercise in Orange journalism, lets’ learn the truth of Adam Harding.
Fact 2: Adam Harding has produced a bazillion music videos for a variety of musicians including, notably, Lou Barlow and Emperor X.
Fact 3: Adam Harding is a sound designer, songwriter, and musician, who has released three solo albums already.
Facts 4-whatever: He knows everyone else and they all love him and will happily work with him any time … seriously! He’s that popular.
As my four point journalist tour de farce proves, however spectacular his collaborators, he’s earned their attention through his work and deserves to namedrop indiscriminately. In reality, Dumb Numbers is Adam Harding. In recording sessions or live performances, he’s joined by various known and lesser-known musicians, but the band remains Harding.
Once all these diverse whozits come together, the sound they create is unexpected yet familiar. The unexpected comes from the combination of two kinds of familiar elements: the simple heartfelt pop song and dirty grungy sludge. Imagine the vocals of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room”, dropping the high floaty parts, and mixing in 15% Kurt Cobain. Now, add in the rumble of a motorcycle gang. Mix thoroughly and you’ve almost created Dumb Numbers. Metaphorically, it’s a tranquil meadow across the babbling creek, with a half-dozen bears roaring back at you with grace and a little menace.
Sonically, brace yourself for overt feedback squalls interrupting the sludge (“Breaking the Split-Screen Barrier”), or, more subtly serving as an instrument of beauty (“Evil Has Grown”). The downtuned, dirty fuzzy bass and guitars play simply, sometimes a chord for two+ bars (“Without”), sometimes doubling the vocals (“Last Night I Had a Dream”) and sometimes, just sometimes, letting loose in the background with soulful solos (“Redrum”). With the guitars frequently not taking part in the rhythm, the drums play an essential role punctuating and adding drama, even driving large parts of “Without”. But that’s all from the dirty side. On the clean side, the vocals are mid-range (just above Cobain) clean vocals, sometimes even sweet and wistful, singing lyrics of lost loves or painful arguments. Harmonies above and below give it a feel like a polyphonic choir of monks, moving their chords together, not like the flair of a barber-shop quartet or the falsetto whine of CSN. If you listen, you’ll notice the occasional appearance of strings or a piano, including nearly the entire length of “The Broken Promise”. We’ll see how this holds up over repeated listens, but this has promise of playing a more solemn version of Goat‘s role in my life: something I can play anytime for any mood and enjoy it completely.
For all that general discussion about what Dumb Numbers is and isn’t, one song in particular moves me like few fuzz guitars songs ever do: “Without”, 8:21 seconds of near-post-rock covering lots of musical ground in order to communicate a single emotion. The song starts with slow hypnotic repetitious lyrics over simple guitar chords. The drums heighten and emphasize the vocals as, with each vocal line, the guitars add one sustained chord. As the lyrics end, in come the whooshy choir, the evolution towards a post-rock song, a not-quite drum solo. The choir sound turns more and more spacey as vaguely string-ish noises, feedbacky noises, and vocalish noises drift by. Finally, the song leaves you, presumably in a haunted space station, as the door slowly opens. While ending in a haunted mood, the lyrics are actually quite angry:
I’ve enjoyed my time without you by my side (X4)
I once hung on your every word, now I know that you lied (X4)
I should have taken your mother’s advice on the day that she died (X4)
She said don’t trust that daughter of mine, she’s a thief and a liar (X4)
With all that, you may have thought further name-dropping was unneccessary. Not true. Harding got another influential band member, David Yow from the Jesus Lizard, to create the video for “Redrum”