I've always found it kind of annoying that when a rock band has a piano player someone inevitably says they sound like Ben Folds Five. Or if there's a saxophone and a beatnik-esque vocalist, they're immediately compared to Morphine. Or if they have a keytar player, they get dismissed as just another Mr. Mister ripoff. (Who could ever replace them!?)
That said, Missing Numbers' latest album, More Salt?, featuring Hall Sanders's soulful and sleazy baritone and tenor sax and Jimmy Peterson's free-association vocals, sure sounds a lot like Morphine. Morphine, however, didn't have a guitar, which is prominent and bluesy and psychedelic and dirty here—and in the best of ways. Still, Missing Numbers' gritty and chicken-fried beatnik-blues owes a lot to all kinds of pain cures.
It's not just Morphine, or even morphine, to which the band pays homage. The entire 11-song album plays out in a seductive, noir-ish haze. It chugs along at a slo-mo train-track pace, as if its momentum has been halted by, say, methadone. The bass is as heavy as eyelids, and the sax as deep as the headspace left over.
Jazzy and experimental, More Salt? is layered with sounds that spring from wet pavement in dark alleys: muffled and distorted voices; footsteps that skitter; broken conversations and wry observations. On "10,000 Tens," Peterson sings in beat verses about "auspicious clouds...an angry sky...an empty room..." like a tour guide. And we're his visitors on a long, strange walk through city streets where shadows are the size of skyscrapers, halos form around streetlamps, and the sky stays moonlit and cobalt-blue forever.