March 9, 2013

"Little Numbers," by BOY

I used to be pretty good at math. Back in second grade - my "heyday," if you will - I was the first kid in my class to add and subtract numbers in the thousands. So, y'know, kind of a big deal. I progressed through the ranks nicely. Multiplication tables, division, then on to algebra, geometry, even trigonometry and statistics. Oh yeah, I did it all, climbing the ranks, until I became a journalism major. I'm more of a "word guy" these days, and my skills are deteriorating. I'm embarrassed to say that I Googled how to do long division last month. My ego took a hit, but my budget has thanked me.

Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass of BOY. Photo by Matze 
Fortunately, to appreciate this week's free single you only need a rudimentary mathematical knowledge of the number seven. "Little Numbers," by Europop duo, BOY, is the premier single off of their debut album Mutual Friends. Though the album was released in 2011, we're just seeing it state-side for the first time, listening to the bright sounds of singer/guitarist Valeska Steiner and bassist Sonja Glass. Though new to the states, BOY is largely acclaimed in Europe, having won several awards including one for best new artist. The pair has been compared to female singer/songwriter acts like Feist and Regina Spektor (I would disagree, but we'll delve into that after the jump).

The bass line on the piano grabs my attention right from the get-go, and I am immediately infatuated with Valeska's singing voice. I hear the tone of Sara Bareilles, but with a certain vocal inflection that brings singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson to mind. I am a fan of both.

I really enjoy the simplicity of this song, using almost entirely drums and piano. The verses hook me, listening to the thumping of the low piano register and the simple drumbeat, but then the song does something weird. The bass line and drums fall away and we get a cutesy, pre-chorus interlude that introduces the song's namesake:

"Seven little numbers, baby, they could be a start. Seven little numbers, baby, I know yours by heart."

It's pretty lyricism, alright, but it sticks out in the arrangement in a jarring sort of way. I feel inclined to chalk it up to two musical ideas that don't quite mesh. Thereafter, there's a contrast between the spartan verses and the sudden activity of the choruses that unsettles me. I feel like this songs A, B and C sections are all present and all-good separately, but there isn't a workable transition from block to block. It makes it difficult for me as a listener to sit back and enjoy the music - as the musical thoughts change, I find my mind having to work to decipher the new pattern, the new layers, etc. To save any further rambling, I'll end with another statement that is clear as mud: it's not cohesive.

Moving past that, I'm not sure how relevant this song is. Valeska sings about a boy's phone number, the promise it holds for a relationship between them and how her thoughts continue to drift back to him. It's all very sweet, but when was the last time you memorized someone's phone number? I only know four phone numbers by heart: my mother's cell number, my father's, their home number, and my own. I don't even know my own sister's cell number, and I don't need to while it's all in my iPhone. 

I understand the romanticism around knowing a number by heart, and how it represents the dedication to and connection with another person, but that ideal is about two decades old. Instead, shouldn't she be memorizing the boy's twitter handle? How about his Facebook URL? Admittedly, it doesn't exactly tug on the heartstrings, but I am nothing if not practical.

All things considered, this is a nice song. It's sweet and simple, the lyrics are nice and there are only a couple songwriting flaws that are compensated for by Valeska's beautiful voice. If you enjoy this song, their album, Mutual Friends, is a lot of the same; more poppy tunes about life from the perspective of the female mind, some better, some worse than their feature single. That said, I give "Little Numbers"...

3.5 out of 5

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