As record labels become less necessary to release albums, the good ones raise their game by treating their talent well, curating their membership while defining their sound, and standing out both online and in their community. Oakland’s Slumberland Records has been a flag carrier of those missives for over a quarter century. By focusing primarily on new artists that channel classic post-punk, new wave, and Britpop vibes, they still manage to keep a true international relevance. Their lineage includes releases from Dum Dum Girls, Velocity Girl, and Stereolab while their current lineup adds performers as varied as Girls Names, Evans The Death, and Joanna Gruesome. One of their latest signings for 2016 is the Minneapolis outfit Real Numbers, whose new album Wordless Wonder fits in with that “Slumberland sound” while taking it in a fresh and vibrant direction.
For anyone familiar with the early catalog of Real Numbers as a trio, the game changer is the addition of lead guitarist Ian Nygaard. Many of the tracks on Wordless Wonder are revamps of older tracks resulting in a fuller aural richness to the pieces. From the opening jangle of “Frank Infatuation”, the effect is immediate and obvious. Comparisons to the C86 genre are too tempting as the frenetic pace and tattered riffs remind of The Wedding Present in their infancy. They stay rowdy on “Just So Far Away” and “New Boy”, making two-minute impressions while lead vocalist Eli Hansen joyfully croons in a fashioned English cadence. Despite their dogged commitment to the source material, Real Numbers doesn’t come off as an eighties rehash, but a welcome renaissance of an important moment in music.
Looking further into Wordless Wonder uncovers some broader eras of influence. The title track has a Brit Invasion shuffle paired some shimmering Byrds jangle. A stripped down beat and resonant twang on “Falling Out” comes straight from the birth of rock music itself. So much music from that era that Real Numbers sources is the most elemental form of guitar. Whether it is awash in reverb or buried under lo-fi intentions, those simple melodies still ring through. Working in concert with Slumberland, this Twin Cities quartet is doing more than refashioning thirty year-old material, they are reminding us of the importance in creating new voices for independent music.
Wordless Wonder is available now.