Real Numbers – Wordless Wonder

My friend Chris wrote off Vivian Girls after he heard their debut single. He thought they were Shop Assistants copyists and never gave them a proper listen. I defended them, but at that point it was useless. He’d already made up his mind. Chris is like that. He had other records to buy, I guess.

A few years ago, Chris said I needed to check out a Minneapolis band called Real Numbers. They’d just released a 7″ on the art punk label Florida’s Dying. He knew I loved the first few Television Personalities records and that I had a taste for scrappy, shambolic pop. So I ordered the record. When it arrived, I put my daughter to bed and listened to the record. The track after which the EP was named, “Tear It In Two,” bared the same pieced together, off-set, dirty air as the silkscreened sleeve the record came in. There was something very exciting about this band. While they stuck very close to TVP’s early catalog, they sprinkled in some stuff I’d only heard on those Messthetics comps. It puzzled me, however, that Chris didn’t see them as DIY copyists with their affected English accents and “World of Pauline Lewis” guitar tones.

Fast forward a few years, Real Numbers release another awesome 12″, a short run cassette, and a singles compilation. All of which served up top notch shambling DIY pop. They then holed up (or maybe just hung out) for three years and finally released a proper full-length on Slumberland Records late last year. Wordless Wonder is a bright collection of songs with a focus on melody and a certain coolness that’s hard to pin down. There’s something slightly less exciting about this release, however.

“Frank Infatuation” kicks off the record with catchy guitar riff and even catchier chorus. If there were some 12-string guitar magic sprinkled in here, it’d sound like a lost Razorcuts track. Next up, they turn up the jangle to 11 on the title track, which halfway through breaks down into an almost unnecessary psychedelic mess before correcting itself again. The third track, “Just So Far Away,” turns up the feedback and fuzz and is over in under two minutes, leaving you wanting to pull out your Heavenly records. The fourth track appeared on one of the Real Numbers’ previous releases. It’s a slightly cleaned up version with a little 12-string rhythm track added. Not much has changed to really warrant a re-recording.

From this point on, the record sort of loses its luster. “Falling Out” isn’t that interesting and sort of drags on. “New Boy” is too similar to a 14 Iced Bears song that I can’t put my finger on. On “Public Domain” they move into darker, more psychedelic territory and my interest is piqued a bit more. The only thing memorable about “Sister’s Serving Tray” is the title. I swear “Up & About” is somewhere else on this album… it’s a little too familiar. The final track on the record, “This Happy Sadness,” is probably the strongest song on the album, however. It boasts a wistful, late period Field Mice feel. Maybe it’s because they’ve incorporated an influence post-1986 that gives the track a prominence that some of the other songs on this album lack.

Wordless Wonder is good DIY pop. While it lacks the excitement of Real Numbers’ previous output, it begins to incorporate influences that we’ve yet to see from these Minneapolitans. I texted Chris last night and asked what he thought of the record. He said, “Maybe they’re just a really good EP band.” I guess they’re just better in small doses.

Real Numbers
Wordless Wonder