Your Voice Repeating
s the seventies came to a close, and the remnants of a decade of social protest and realignment long since snorted and discoed away swooned towards the dead-ended Reagan years to come, Hollywood’s social conscience was in a state of rigor mortis. Trying in vain to summon up new films of dissent, they overstretched themselves, and the result was the half-baked release of some of their most terrifically awful social protest films in the history of American cinema. One of the absolute worst/best was John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy, a sort of King Kong for the genetically-misaligned. Rigid with terror over ecological deterioration and industrial waste, the movie imagined a creature that would lay waste to humanity in the name of Mother Nature; that would emerge from the woods to reclaim its sylvan stomping grounds and slew an entire wilderness’ worth of loggers and researchers. Part bear, part squirrel, part rabbit, part groundhog. All the myriad beasts were in there somewhere, and yet the creature itself was the most grotesquely unoriginal fiend you can imagine. The parts were all too distinct; you could see the head of the bear just as surely as the fur of the rabbit. They didn’t blend. For whatever reason, and for the first time since I’d seen it, I remembered this film as I was listening to Namelessnumberheadman’s second album, Your Voice Repeating. On this outing, the Kansas City band employs only the recognizable and distinguishable, but their deft sense of collage and reinvention meld those familiar noises into one of the young year’s most endlessly beautiful creatures.
Using slight variations on the tried-and-true postmodern studio band, Namelessnumberheadman combines acoustic guitars with fractured electronic beats and thrift-store synths, but before you start to think “so far, so not good,” vocal moans and vibrant choruses of ‘Ba Da Da Da’ sink in through these crisp soundscapes and make so much more out of the sound than one could expect by now, given the output of bands like Grandaddy, Ill Lit, The Elected, etc. Their vocals don’t typically rely on lyrics, and often the most visceral effects come from a wordless hum left to percolate and simmer for several seconds before you begin to see the uselessness in linguistic expression. Singing, moaning, humming; they all flutter around these semi-instrumental songs without questioning whether they’ve entered at the wrong point or misread the script. Even if this ain’t the right room, not even the right band, these voices are gonna start up right now and you better damn well get comfy in your studio chair ‘cause in a moment it’ll all be too late. This is the theater of helter skelter at work, but it’s far too demanding to be just an accident.
With this astral background, NNH never need to decide whether or not their songs are lyrically-oriented. “Going to Breathe Again,” for example, contains really only one vocal chorus, and it doesn’t show up until you’re accustomed to its jumpy beat and tingling synths and have begun to enjoy the song as an instrumental, which is of course where it returns as soon as that final syllable dies off. Songs lead into each other like rooms in a sand castle, known only by the hand of the creator unless you are crude enough to ask about the floor plan; the morose piano and gurgling synths of “Full & Frayed” drain into the circling guitar and crescendoed synths on “Tension Envelopes,” before the track heats into a swirling maelstrom and crashes out.
Yet for a band that has made such a concerted effort at sustaining a single emotional tone without regard to track boundaries, they never allow restlessness to settle in. The alterations between tracks are noticeable, but well-crafted and subtle. The churning guitars on “Three Cheers for Cause & Effect” bare their teeth at you from behind three sheets of solid glass and dazzling chimes it’s spent the better part of the last two minutes erecting, not removing itself as a threat but giving you the composure to return to the window glass. You couldn’t possibly remove a single track for a mix tape or compilation; the rest of the work would crumble without it, and the one removed would refuse to eat or sleep until it was put back in its place.
As for the studio touches, Namelessnumberheadman take all the credit, and they deserve it. Their calm, unobtrusive tweaking augments the cut-and-dry organic instruments with a vivid astrosensuality, proving that the studio was always the tool, and never the craft. With the release of Your Voice Repeating, Namelessnumberheadman have proven there’s no need to prophesize, only to spit forth a singular, unheralded statement. This is the sound of virtues getting their own say, without the awkwardness of metacommunity alignment; if only Frankeneheimer had understood this notion and kept his eyes on his own schoolwork. . .