I am not going to play hypocrite – I listen to tons of music that is produced by major labels and have more corporate sponsorship than it deserves. And I am not going to be naïve – most self-recorded and self-produced music is quite often horrible. So I think any savvy fanatic of music is going to listen to a wide range of not just music, but a wide range of how music is produced. And again and again this year, it has been two kinds of artists that have really reaffirmed my love of music. The first, not pertaining to this post, are veterans. The second are the truly independent artists, who understand music as art (not just business) and are truly producing some of the best music out there. The Silent Numbers is one such band, and their release of “Calculator” (3 July 2011), released as a four-track digital download or a physical three-track, is a collection of non-traditional shoegaze. Unlike the majority of contemporary shoegaze on my radar, which is heavy on the dream pop, this is shoegaze more grounded in traditional post-punk. Shoegaze, which traditionally relied heavily on noise and dream pop, is sonically an expansive genre, and what is on display with “Calculator” is a darker (dare I say more sensual) take of shoegaze that is riveting and infectious.
The collection opens with “Calculator Watch.” With a thick “dark” bass and subdued but harmonious vocals, this song is very reminiscent of the late 1970s and early 1980s post-punk. The bass propels the song, with the assistance of very symmetrical drumming, while the guitars in this song are very reminiscent of the post-punk guitars of bands that bordered on or gave into the gothic movement. But just like the second track, “Canadia,” which is an instrumental, the point is not to revive a post-punk sound. Rather it is to bring out a new dimension and possibility for shoegaze. Right from the first two tracks, especially since one is an instrumental, it becomes obvious that the band is placing a lot of emphasis on the listener’s visceral reaction to the music. The fact that this instrumental is so strong and alluring that you never long for words/vocals is evidence of songwriting chops – something that most contemporary bands cannot pull off.
The second half of “Calculator” takes the band in a different direction. “Foundation” is sultrily mysterious, as the initial guitar arrangement builds anticipation and a very asymmetrical bassline creates cohesiveness, the song really has hints of space rock (without the cheesy key arrangements). The breathy vocals (the only hint of dream pop) are subdued but create a beautiful counter-melody is the chorus. The closing track is “Ruthless.” With a soft opening, which lasts through the two-thirds of the song, inspiring a hopeful feeling, the song then becomes cacophonous for nearly a minute, before regaining its softness. Symbolically speaking, the song is more about the calm before and after the storm, the sort of serenity that is elusive because there is often nothing there to compare it against. Where as the cliché of most songs is to bring attention to the “rocking” part, here it is the serenity of the music that really entrances you.
Anyone who reads what I write knows that though I appreciate just about all kinds of music, shoegaze has always been special to me – and, as a result, I am more critical of shoegazers. I always remember an era in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when nascent shoegazers were releasing amazing EPs that till today are some of the best collections of music I have ever heard. 2011 is much like those years, and The Silent Numbers’ “Calculator” may very well stay the test of time to be one of those EPs. Perhaps there is something in the water in Portland, Oregon USA that makes for such great shoegaze, but one things for sure is that this is a collection you need listen to. Whether you are fans of shoegaze (and post-punk) or are simply curious and are a music lover, this small, but grand, collection will definitely leave an impression.
1. Calculator Watch
Keep up with The Silent Numbers at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to the band’s Bandcamp page where you can preview and download “Calculator” and the rest of the band’s discography.
Here is the video for “Ruthless: from thesilentnumbers YouTube Channel.