The mercurial affair that is Numb, Number results directly of its many parts, bringing together BOL, an improv trio formed of vocalist Tone Åse, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, a regular with Supersilent, Elephant9 or Humcrush alongside Thomas Strønen, and drummer and percussionist Tor Haugerud, with guitarists Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan, known as one half of Motorpsycho, and Stian Westrhus, whose credentials include Puma, Bladed or Monolithic and a couple of solo releases for Rune Grammofon and its sister vinyl imprint The Last Record Company, and whose latest project, a collaboration with Norwegian vocalist extraordinaire Sidsel Endresen has just been issued by Rune Grammofon.
In the seventeen years they have been working together, BOL have made a point of remaining open to new ideas and facing challenges head on, so when the trio were presented with the opportunity to confront their improv ethic with that of Westerhus and Snah, two guitarist with very different backgrounds and outlooks, on the occasion of a festival two years ago, they grabbed it, and it has now resulted in a whole album.
Expectedly with such a line up, Numb, Number is a record of extremes, at times kept uncomfortably sedate, its simmering rage buried under layers of details and melody, at others its wrath unleashed onto the listener in torrents of distortions and noise. As volatile as it is visceral, this record never lets on where it is heading.
Mixing BOL’s often delicate and refined improvisations with a much more abrasive rock approach, the songs, whilst at times radically different from each other, are fueled by a sense of urgency which is present, in underlying or upfront form, through the whole record. Apart for the opening title track, all the songs’ lyrics here are poems from E.E. Cummings or english translations of Norwegian works by Rolf Jacobsen and Olav H. Hauge. Åse’s delivery is as diverse and rich as the music itself, going from whisper, syncopated spoken words at time vaguely reminiscent of Sidsel Endresen, or warm and melodic inputs to shrieks or raw, aggressive, screams more evocative of SPUNK.
At its most fragile and delicate, Numb, Number feels extremely intimate and vulnerable. On songs such as Spring Is Like A Perhaps Hand or Waiting Time, it feel as if the minutest of details have been amplified to such an extend that they appear enormous, even cast against Åse’s voice. Equally as delicate, but built up more substantially, Numb, Number, Asphalt orSinging Again almost sound like proper pop songs, as Westerhus and Ryan wrap BOL’s experiments in wonderfully warm and rich guitar layers. You Bird – and The Western Windare much more radical pieces though, the former propelled by an increasingly greasy blues rock which ends up subjected to toxic stabs of distorted guitars, the latter an abstract and chaotic pile-up of saturation, distortion and noise amidst which Åse’s voice appears extremely sharp and cutting.
Numb, Number is pretty much unclassifiable, its many strands and the personnel that deliver them making it a challenging offering. That it all actually works extremely well and makes absolute sense from start to finish is perhaps not quite such a surprise considering the respective pedigree of each of the musicians involved, but if this record is by all means the direct result of these forces working together, that result is ultimately much greater than the sum of its parts.