Music Review: "What's the Price?" by Numbers Not Names
- by Señor Editor, 11 January 2013
Numbers Not Names is an international collective of four musicians - Alexei "Crescent Moon" Casselle (Kill The Vultures, US) being the MC, the producer Oktopus of dälek fame (US again) and two drummers: Jean-Michel "Mitch" Pires (NLF3, The Married Monk) from France and Chris Cole (Manyfingers) from the UK. "What's the Price" is the first full-length the hip-hop/electronic group recorded, and it was released on the French label Ici D'Ailleurs late last year.
While I know of dälek (from reputation, mostly), the only person in this intriguing quartet that I'm actually familiar with is Casselle, and that's from his Oddjobs days and through the connection with Eyedea, Slug and that whole Minneapolis early '00s hip-hop scene. So admittedly, my knowledge of past musical output from the members of NNN is very limited, but maybe at least it allows me to come into "What's the Price?" with an open mind.
"What's the Price?" isn't an easy record to review, as the first couple of spins can be quite misleading. It's a very industrial kind of sound, with samples and sound layered in a chaotic manner not unlike some early Bomb Squad tracks on Public Enemy records. On the first listen you probably won't really be able to decipher all those layers and make sense out of the ever-changing wall of sound. This changes as you start to pick up where each element is going and what it brings to the songs.
The above is both the first single and the opening track on "What's the Price?" and that's definitely a wise choice. It's like a riot soundtrack. It gets in your head and Casselle's repeatedly stated "We can do this the hard way or you can come willingly/ It's not the heat, it's the humility" sticks with you for a long time after the song ends, same as "Don't put no coins on my eyes when I'm dead/ Because you'll need every cent to keep the family fed". That track is where everything works together the best, the lyrics add a nice power and sense of urgency to a beat that's already making you wanna smash something.
But what comes next? Well, what comes next is only 8 more songs, though a lot of them are about 4-5 minutes long and, with the changing soundscape, it doesn't give you the feeling that you're rushing through the album. The tension that's present in the first track doesn't really disappear and you shouldn't really expect a moment on this record when things calm down and you get a chance to catch your breath (though I would really like to hear how this could be achieved with the style the band plays in). "My Home is My Headache" and "Night Train" (one of the best songs on this record) probably come the closest to that sonically, though they're not exactly what casual listeners would call calming.
Some other standout tracks include "Mimic the Mimic" where Casselle changes his flow in a nice way that really pushes the whole track forward and just keeps it focused. "Cold War Sound" has a bouncy flow that somehow really works with the pulsating, yet grim beat. Casselle actually switches his style a lot on this record, sometimes to great effect, sometimes not so much (the titular "What's the Price?" where the occasional singing doesn't really sound that great to this reviewer). It's sometimes hard to tell which of the remaining members is responsible for what elements of the songs, but for the most part they work well together, and it's appreciated that they're not afraid to take the songs in many different directions and have some fun with them.
This is a heavy hip-hop album with a very hipnotic, industrial atmosphere and a lot of genuinely interesting moments. I'm glad I didn't review it right away, because I probably wouldn't give it justice. It's a grower, no doubt, but it also has some moments that will immediately grab you (look no further than the first single, posted above). If you're an adventureous hip-hop fan, or just like to be surprised by music of a more experimental nature, you should at least give it a try. The record has its faults, it isn't perfect and it isn't for everybody, but it's an interesting first full-length from a set of talented people.
I hear they've been touring with Sole just last year and, from what I read, they did quite a good job on the road. If the time spent playing together propels the quartet to make another record then I wouldn't mind that at all.
"What's The Price?" is available right now on icidailleurs.com, you can get it here. If you feel like giving NNN some more listens first, there's also a FREE EP that you can get on the label's Bandcamp page.