Too Numb to Know
Wharf Cat Records
Profligate has dabbled in the sounds that make up new release Too Numb to Know going all the way back to his earliest recordings, although those who come in expecting the stylized techno and hard electronics he was originally known for might be surprised by just how song-based the LP is. Indeed, the music Noah Anthony is making these days falls pretty squarely into the broad world of post-punk and wave sounds, albeit with the melodic sensibility that has always been poking out between the beats in his previous releases pushed to the forefront.
Moreso than any stylistic allegiance, it’s mood that governs the songs on the album. Anthony’s mix of programmed drums, synthesized and electric bass and guitar and moves smoothly back and forth between rock and electronic poles depending on the song, but it’s the overall feeling of malaise that helps unite the record. Opener “Mask” starts as a nice bit of foreboding minimalist electronic darkwave but is soon given some fuzzy and clean guitar lines to accompany its low-key tempo and set up its mournful melody. Alternately the clean and bright keys and bassline of “A Little Rain” bring The XX to mind. The two songs are distinct in approach but are unified in their sense of hopeful ennui.
There’s also a couple of nice examples of Anthony dipping into classic proto-synthpop sounds that emphasize his hooks. Album highlight “Hang Up” manages to be a dancefloor contender while still maintaining a sense of restraint: its 4/4 drums and insistent bassline lead to a chorus that is purposefully underdelivered vocally to create tension and anticipation. “No Clear Way” has some classic OMD and Ultravox nods, the chiming guitar contrasted with rich synth tones to provide the hooks Anthony studiously avoids in his vocals. While he tends to favour a more reserved approach in his singing, Anthony does experiment with phrasing that provides some interesting rhythmic variation, especially when set deliberately against his drums as on the buzzing menace of “We Can Punish”.
While it infrequently goes in hard, calling Too Numb to Know a “chill” record is something of a misnomer. There’s more than enough emotion worked into the nooks and crannies of these songs – albeit delivered with deliberate caution – to keep it from fading into the background. Like many records that trade in more opaque pleasures, it’s the listener’s level of involvement that will determine how much of the album’s considerable depth of character they uncover.