The Postmarks: By-The-Numbers

By-The-Numbers is not only a satisfying follow-up to The Postmarks' 2006 self-titled collection but an inspired concept unto itself: each song is a cover, with the numbers one to eleven appearing consecutively in the selections (the twelfth song is cheekily given over to The Pointer Sisters' “Pinball Number Count” which was made popular by Sesame Street). Vocalist Tim Yehezkely and instrumentalists Christopher Moll and Jonathan Wilkins generally pull it off though there are a couple of rough spots along the way. To their credit, the trio fearlessly tackles a diverse assortment of originals that spreads itself across multiple genre lines, with everything from reggae, shoegaze, punk, glam-rock, and soundtrack music targeted by the Miami-based outfit.

Many songs suit The Postmarks' style perfectly. “You Only Live Twice” would have sounded right at home on the group's earlier album, and softer numbers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim's “One Note Samba” and Bob Marley's “Three Little Birds” benefit from the group's delicate handling. Yehezkely's sensual coo wraps itself around the James Bond cover (originally sung by Nancy Sinatra) like it was born to do so, and the lilting lullaby treatment given Marley's song is just as appealing. Though decades old, “One Note Samba” retains its plentiful lyrical and melodic charms, and the clever transition from the initial single-note repetition (“This is just a little samba / Built upon a single note”) to the second (“Now this new one is the consequence of / The one we've just been through / As I'm bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you”) and the buoyant trill that follows (“There's so many people who can talk and talk and talk and just say nothing”) is executed with breezy élan by the group. They also ride the wave of “OX4” convincingly with a treatment that references Ride's shoegaze attack without sacrificing their own identity in the process, and give The Jesus and Mary Chain's “Nine Million Rainy Days” a Mazzy Starr-like rendering that's easy to like too. Imbuing The Cure's “Six Different Ways” with ‘60s-styled rainy-day melancholy also works well, as does the Phil Spector/Ronettes-styled treatment given The Ramones' “7-11,” which comes complete with castanets, a “Be My Baby” drum beat, and irresistible lines “I met him at the 7-11 / Now I'm in seventh heaven.”

Of course, attempting covers of certain songs can expose weaknesses in the cover artist, no matter how affectionate and sincere the gesture. Mick “Woody” Woodmansey's famous drum pattern may be firmly locked in place but the “Five Years” cover is a misstep, simply because Yehezkely can't match the angst-ridden intensity that Bowie delivers so passionately—pretty in this case won't wash—and the group's stab at Blondie's “11:59” shows she's no Debbie Harry either; while The Postmarks makes an admirable roller-rink stab at it, the group can't possibly match the frenzied roar of Blondie in its Parallel Lines prime. In short, such covers, no matter how well-intentioned, end up accentuating Yehezkely's vocal limitations more than anything. Still, ten out of twelve's an obviously strong batting average, and the diversity of the collection's a powerful drawing card too. Perhaps the biggest downside is that the release of By-The-Numbers will push ahead the release date of the group's next set of originals.

December 2008