What’s the Highest Number You Can Think Of?
Hans Blix, a trio that borrows its name from the chief United Nations weapons inspector, blends together elements of jazz, rock, electronica and ambient music: It’s a little bit Tortoise, a little bit Yo La Tengo. Guitarist Dan Venne loops his lines through a laptop, allowing him to play as many as four tracks simultaneously. Drummer James Windsor Wells bangs out rock rhythms but constantly changes his patterns, creating the inertia that keeps the group moving. Brian Scherman lays down his basslines on a microKORG synthesizer, which frankly becomes irritating after a while.
What’s the Highest Number You Can Think Of? was recorded in Wells’ kitchen, and I have a hunch about how it was done. Here’s my theory: They jammed, almost aimlessly, for hours and hours, and kept the tape rolling the whole time. Then they played it back and snipped four minutes here, five minutes there and—voila!—they had themselves an album. Evidence of this: Several of the tunes start abruptly, with all three musicians playing at the same time, mid-measure, and several end by fading out. That’s what it sounds like, anyway.
This disc is going to sound very cool to indie-rock hipsters, but for jazz aficionados it’s going to seem awfully repetitive. “Assassin” feels incomplete, like backing tracks in search of a lead voice. “Cindy Yang’s Dance Academy” is a horrible thing—the synth bass, with its long sustains, finally grates beyond redemption and Venne’s high-pitched, four-note loop could drive a sane man to commit acts of violence. Some of the other tunes—“Something Surfacing,” “Blizzard”—groove along fairly well, but they sound like … well, hell, they sound like three guys jamming in the drummer’s kitchen.