Places and Numbers will release Notes From The Dead Zone on November 22nd.
“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am. There is no mystery about why this should be so. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of your clothes- with all of this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”
While the preceding quote is taken from late author Michael Crichton's memoir, it may as well have come from the autobiography of Places And Numbers' Bobby Darling. Darling, who got his musical start as the guitarist for critically acclaimed art rockers Gatsbys American Dream, has traveled further- both physically and emotionally- in the past three years than most people do in their entire lifetimes. His newest musical venture, the electronic-tinged solo outfit Places and Numbers, embodies everything Darling has endured and strove for his entire life. It's a reflection on his life experiences and the healing powers of traveling. And perhaps more importantly, the music created as Places and Numbers is entirely Darling's own; songs that tell his story and that were created where he's most comfortable- on the road. Recorded while traveling through Italy, Travels (and the preceding Waking The Dead EP) is a study in digital composition-meets-raw, revealing, unapologetic lyrics. The combination of the two make for songs that are at once sterile and completely inviting, dark yet light- and at times uncomfortable, not unlike the experience of spending one's life as a traveler.
When Gatsbys dissolved in 2006, Darling put away his guitar for a while, got a job with an airline, and continued his nomadic lifestyle, traveling not only all over the United States, but also the world. But music was never far from Darling's mind. "I had my MBox and my laptop. The MBox was in one of my suitcases when I was packing for New York [to take the airlines job], and I was like, 'What the hell? I'll bring it with me.' I literally had to wipe dust off of it because I hadn't done any music in a long time. When I had days off, I'd definitely go explore the city. But if it was rainy, I'd just hang out in my apartment, working on songs and seeing what would pop out. That's how Places and Numbers started. I would record demos in my hotel rooms, all over the world."
Just as Darling was rediscovering the therapeutic nature of creating music, he was blindsided with the death of his parents. His mother passed away early in 2009, and his father died about two months later. Needless to say, he was leveled. Shortly after his mother's death, though, and with the urging of long-time best friend and producer Casey Bates, Darling decided to take a chance and send his demos Equal Vision. When he got the word that the label was interested in working with him, it was one of the lone bright spots in a tough year.
Only two or three songs into the writing process, the deaths of his parents had a huge impact on the types of songs and lyrics he was writing. The songs reflect his losses, but they also have a vivid sense of hope for the future. "If you spend time with the record, you'll definitely see a big schism between the first half and the second half," says Darling. "The second half is a bunch of love songs, and the first half is really, really dark. It's not chronological. The third song, 'Waking The Dead' [and title track of the currently available digital EP] is about my folks dying. It's super autobiographical. It's for real. It's all just me dumping out stuff that I was thinking about."
And while some of the subject matter comes from a very sad place, ultimately Darling was allowed to make the record he'd been fantasizing about for several years. That dedication to and excitement for his craft shows through in the carefully crafted hooks and delicately placed flourishes that make Places and Numbers such an engaging listen. Before signing with Equal Vision, Darling had joked with Bates, who he grew up with in Washington, that he would love nothing more than to record an album abroad, traveling from city to city, tracking in hotel rooms. Turns out, that's exactly what Darling and Bates did when they recorded Travels.
Using his connections with the airline, Darling was able to send himself, Bates, his brother Billy Darling and videographer Jay Schwandt to Italy. The group traveled to Venice, Verona, Bellagio, Cinque Terre, Chianti, and Rome, recording along the way and drawing inspiration from the Italian culture. While Darling and Bates were recording, Billy and Schwandt documented the experience for a feature-length DVD which will accompany the album.
The music itself is a wonderfully welcoming blend of reverb-drenched effects and Darling's engaging vocals. While many of his vocals are shaded with more-than-subtle hints of '80s new wave, the emotion that comes through retains a warm, inviting human quality. At any given time, Darling can sound reminiscent of the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne ("I Had A Dream About A Nuclear Attack") to Ben Folds ("Waking The Dead") to Self's Matt Mahaffey ("Black Friday"). Considering the majority of the instrument parts were created electronically, Travels has the potential to come off a bit calculated, but Darling avoids this pitfall by expertly balancing precise drum parts with spacey keys ("Like Lungs Love The Air"), raw, acoustic guitar ("WTF") and crafted static ("The Music"). And similar to traveling to a new place for the first time, the intricate details of each track aren't always immediately noticeable. But with each additional listen, more and more of the song reveals itself in detailed snippets, rewarding the listener with a truly invigorating aural experience.
The finished product pulls musical influences from acts as diverse as the Postal Service, Talking Heads, the Strokes and Kanye West, and showcases a musician who's finding new meaning in life through writing songs. Not necessarily a revolutionary idea when it comes to making music, but one that has more resonance in Darling's case.