Personnel: Eli Hansen (vocals, guitar, keyboards, tambourine); Ian Nygaard (guitar); James Blackfield (drums, tambourine); Johnny Eggerman, Cameron Soojian (background vocals).
Photographer: Maxie Heartbreak.
The chiming, slightly ramshackle sound of C-86 has proven to be a long-running strain of indie pop -- one of the strongest, right up there with shoegaze. On their debut album for Slumberland, Wordless Wonder, the Minneapolis band Real Numbers show that they've absorbed all the lessons of the best guitar pop groups from C-86 era. They have the hooky guitar melodies, artlessly melancholy vocals, and jumpy tempos of bands like the Jasmine Minks down pat, along with the brevity and bustle that made the sound a breath of fresh air. The band also has a serious amount of the kind of energetic innocence that the early Television Personalities had running through their bloodstream. The band's early singles and songs mined this exact territory, but something important was missing. Now, with the help of new guitarist Ian Nygaard, they've totally nailed it, sounding focused and tight with lots of snappy guitar leads to give an extra boost to the tighter, catchier songs. Kicking off with the ripping "Frank Infatuation," which comes off like a lost Razorcuts single, the record's energy and drive never flag. The combo plays with feverish intensity on the uptempo tracks while laying sweet vocal harmonies on top. Tracks like the romping "New Boy" and the noisy "Up & About" are serious toe-tappers, maybe even enough to drive the less shy indie kids to the dancefloor. The jangling midtempo songs provide a little bit of emotional weight to the album; "Only Two Can Play" and "Wordless Wonder" have a lilting prettiness on the surface and lovely sadness at their core. A couple songs stray a bit from the standard indie pop template and show that the band can stretch beyond the expected norms and still deliver something good. "Public Domain" has a twanging surf noise sound that's a shade darker than anything else on the album; "Falling Out" is a Buddy Holly-ish ballad crossed with "Love Is Strange" with guitars played by Duane Eddy. It's totally different than anything else on the album and it has a relaxed, confident swagger that deftly balances the tender emotions of the voices and lyrics. It's the impressive highlight of a similarly impressive debut and shows that while Real Numbers are firmly located in the C-86 tradition, they aren't bound by its sometimes stifling limitations. They aren't just imitators either; they have bright ideas and boundless energy, and most importantly, really good songs. Real Numbers might follow in one of the more unfortunate traditions of too many C-86-style bands and quickly squander all their potential, but even if they do, Wordless Wonder will be there anytime someone needs a blast of breezy, noisy, youthful indie pop. ~ Tim Sendra