Life is messy. For all the crisply packaged lives you see on the internet, everyone makes poor decisions sometimes. We flirt because it feels good, drink too much, get jealous, misunderstand, are unkind. Sometimes much worse.
And “sometimes,” Dan Connor confides in his weathered rasp on Love by Numb3rs’ brand-new full-length, “Earth Needs a Moon,” “it’s hard to say, ‘I’m sorry’.”
We accept these inadequacies in the people we love, of course. Anna Lombard’s response in the second verse of the album’s title track should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in any kind of relationship: “When you only give me half of you/ I pretend that I don’t care.”
The 10 songs here seem designed to explore that imperfect world, full of rocky relationships and frayed edges and things that are just out of plumb. It is warm and analog in a world that can increasingly feel cold and digital, lovingly crafted in a world that can seem full of carbon copies and things assembly-line manufactured.
With 15 years of history, some of it not so pretty, Lombard and Connor have found they like a life where they rotate around one another, and it’s hard to argue with the formula. Their voices complement one another beautifully, his rough sandpaper against the richness of her tones, and the six songs here where they trade verses and join in chorus and even layer on top of one another, as in the finish to “What Would I Do,” are generally the stand outs.
Jon Roods, beau to Lombard and Rustic Overtone and a musician’s musician, is not to be discounted, however. It can sometimes seem as though he is the space in which the rotational duo of Lombard and Connor float, providing an atmosphere of Moogs and Hammonds and guitars, even an electric sitar. While the record can often feel quiet and reserved, when it’s in the headphones you can hear just how layered and complicated it is. And it’s not uncommon for Roods to play five or six instruments per track.
The results are largely throwbacks to the acoustic-rock ’60s, with nods to R&B, Motown, and psych-rock, the kind of thing that once dominated the AM dial and has been brought back to the fore over and over again by admirers as diverse as Wilco (Josh Duym’s guitar lead on “Earth Needs a Moon” is very “Ghost Is Born”) and Leon Bridges. While lots of Americana and country bands have leaned into four-on-the-floor beats and digital flourishes, though, Love by Numb3rs here go the opposite direction, heavy on the ballads and soft pieces.
The closing “A Million Suns” gets legitimately trippy, with a rock edge, and “Ashes” might fool you initially with a bouncy Carpenters bass line, but this is a melancholy kind of album, and Lombard’s vocals betray that bounce with languid, regrettable memories: “Crashed my show at the Middle East/ Got so drunk I couldn’t feel a thing/ And it reminded me of New Year’s.”
Heck, the opening “When I Close My Eyes” is doo-wop number about “when I leave this world.” But what a fun build. The heavily reverbed guitar and clean vocals in the open are eventually joined by backing vocals, echoing responses, then a full drum kit that doesn’t enter until three minutes are gone. Only to have Lombard finish with a whispered “after I’m gone.”
If you’re going to dance to this album, it’ll probably be late night, with a hard buzz on, one person sorta holding up the other. “The Refuge” might call to mind that MUNA song when it opens with Lombard promising, “I know a place,” but instead of dancing what happens there is a lot of quiet piano and then some big Beatles chords: “I’ve been saving all my tears for you.”
This kind of vulnerability and transparency, coupled with heart-felt love, is hardly mainstream. Nor is the loungey and sultry vibe of “Don’t Be So Hard on Me,” but there’s no quibbling with the delivery and it can be nice to imagine oneself back in time. Standing on a cold pier. Two well-dressed people arguing in the moonlight, maybe one of them in a cool hat.
“You been runnin’ wild,” Lombard accuses. “I been half out of my mind.”
Yeah, it’s messy. But it sounds a little bit like a good time.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
Two Weeks, Five Songs
• Fat Knuckle Freddy and the Vintage Heathen, “No Holds Barred” – Did that Saiyid Brent spot at Amigo’s from last column sound good? Luckily, there’s a three-song EP of the material, Brent styling himself as the Vintage Heathen and Freddy doing his thing hard-driving blues rock. From metal screams to quick-rapped verses to indie rock cynicism, it’s all over the place and thrives in its chaos. At one point, Brent ends a song with a simple, “that was dope,” and he’s right.
• Manuel, “Camino Desconocido” – All instrumental, Manuel Urgulies shows off some serious guitar chops here, with a soaring and piercing metal-rock piece that manages to reel off a full suite of approaches in a tight 4:17. If you’re looking to catch him in the wild, find him playing guitar for Xander Nelson’s band. Good chance they give him a solo or two.
• Grivois, “Generations” – While you might know his more beat-heavy and EDM-style work as Vik44, Adam Grivois here has created a six-song soundscape as an homage to the Stephen Hill-hosted radio program “Hearts of Space,” syndicated to late-night stations and reveling in ambient and new-age selections. It is moody and placid, something to fall asleep to and chase dreams of space travel.
• Dean Ford, “VHS” – His first pop track since “Get Messy,” fans of Dean Ford have had to satiate themselves for the past seven years with Christmas tunes and Prince covers, but Ford returns here with something designed for the charts, full of big beats, distorted vocals, and a super-catchy chorus. Watch for more, hot on this tune’s heels.
• Andrew LaVogue, “Cherry Valley Waltz” – The title track off an eight-song album, this is a solo guitar track like the rest, no lyrics, in the style of John Fahey and other “primitive guitar” players. It’s soothing and meditative and easy on the ears.
— Sam Pfeifle