Real Numbers returns with a handful of extra-polished pop tunes

Photo Courtesy of Slumberland Records

Minneapolis indie pop outfit Real Numbers is back with its first new music in nearly four years.

Brighter Then, the band’s new EP on Slumberland Records, consists of five songs that showcase the group’s evolving production and musical dynamic. Now expanded to a five-piece with the addition of keyboard player Sophie Durbin, Real Numbers has never sounded more fully textured and cleverly detailed than here.

The EP opens with its title track, “Brighter Then,” which features a sunny lead guitar riff that hangs over hazy snare hits. Accompanied by an inventive music video, “Brighter Then” is a compelling single that’s catchiness and pondering lyrics will most likely earn it some playtime on membership radio stations.

And if there’s any question to the importance of the EP’s namesake track, a pared down, organ-driven reprise of the song closes out the release, leaving listeners with the song’s signature melody and reassuring us once more that “these things happen,” whether that’s in reference to the end of a relationship or another setback in life.

“In the End,” Brighter Then’s other standout song, comes just before that closing reprise. The EP’s longest song, “In the End” offers some of the band’s most intricate guitar work with swirling notes that dance atop a rich chord progression. The song’s polished production skews toward the cleanness of 80s post-punk, making it one of the most professional-sounding songs Real Numbers has put to wax as a group.

The middle portion of the EP, however, is hit and miss. The second song, “Darling,” sees the band return to the jangly pop of its previous releases. But, despite cool background vocals, it fails to rise above an attempt at something anthemic and grand. Perhaps if it were developed and refined further it would rise to the level of “In the End” or the title track.

“Old Cross,” on the other hand, puts on display the musicianship of the northern band. With marching drums, pulsing bass and a surfy guitar riff, the calm but stirring instrumental introduces an emotional depth that’s brought on by the song’s strategic layers and balanced mix.

In fact, the general improvement in the production on Brighter Then gives Real Numbers extra degrees of freedom to create more complex songs that better emphasize each of its members’ playing. Although this new release clocks in at just under 15 minutes, Brighter Then houses some of Real Numbers’ sharpest and most polished work to date.

4/5

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