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Numbers, DEATH (Tigerbeat 6)

Numbers, EE-UH! (Troubleman)

At least once a week, my daughter asks for what she calls "The Robot Song," which a very few people might know as "Go To Show" by the San Francisco trio Numbers. Here’s how it goes: a boy and girl shout in a Speak and Spell deadpan: "There/are lots/of bands/that play!/I go/To see/Them ev/’ry day!" The band lurch stiffly along to a lopsided beat; guitars spew rollicking shredded-chord shrapnel, and a weird keyboard/bass hybrid gloops and galumphs all squeezy-like with a satisfyingly flatulent squirt. "Got/To go!/To ev/’ry Show!" they cheer, exhilarated and numb in the same breath — it’s the perfect automaton fight song for jaded scenesters and rock critics on the verge of system failure. As with everything else in Numbers’ catalogue, melody is pretty much absent, but the see-saw rhythm and the sing-song chant are so infectious that, well, even pre-schoolers can get their ’droid on.

That’s the best song they’ve got, and as far as I can tell it appears only on a Tigerbeat6 tour comp, Paws Across America 2002 (still in print at the label’s Web site). There’s more vroom and less sproink on their fantastic debut album, Life, a disc whose best songs imagine adolescent ’bots with social disorders and sentient household appliances with ADD (see also the Disney Channel’s Rolie Polie Olie and the Seattle band A-Frames). On "I’m Shy" and "Too Cool To Say Hi," they boil down the manic, trebly chirp and the weirdo synth zap of Six Finger Satellite’s The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird into byte-sized spasms about not fitting in, like a Romper Room Gang of Four. "Human Replace" is their version of reading the phone book — "If you know/your extension/you can dial/it now!" — over herky-jerky video-game ponk. The only exclamations in "Information" are "Numbers! Numbers!" and "Information!", as if that were all there is in the world; meanwhile the band slowly grind three chords into a series of binary blips and blurps.

The studio material on their recent EP Ee-Uh! fails to improve on the formula, but the live tracks find their springs looser, their digital entrails crispy-burnt and dangling. The remix disc Death lets the likes of Kid 606, Stars As Eyes, and DAT Politics loose on Numbers’ album and singles tracks — which is for the most part like asking doctoral candidates for a book report on The Cat in the Hat — and is for completists only. But it’s worth the asking price if only for microchip-hop MC Gold Chains’ tweak of "Prison Life," in which he plays Alvin to their Chipmunks, sends their one-chord tantrum to Hampsterdance heaven, then ends by roughnecking the song up as a bizonkers ’80s-style hardcore rant.


Issue Date: September 5 - September 11, 2003
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