While the 2022 Halloween season was coming to an end, a new Numbtongue record snuck its way into the moonlit South Carolina air. An emotionally eclectic collection of songs penned by South Carolina song-savant Bobby Hatfield titled ‘Phantom Limbs’. The album cover features a striking nighttime nature scene that is illuminated by what is hard to distinguish as either a spotlight or a full moon. This aesthetic ambiguity is a perfect pairing for what we think is Hatfield’s most complex and engaging work to date. The album opens with a mesmerizing title track that works as a mantra of sorts, repeating the line “God is nowhere. God is now here”. This lyrical theme is coupled with the familiar piano tones we’ve come to expect from Numbtongue but with a bit of an unnerving feel that sets the pace for what’s to come next. Hatfield’s voice is particularly rich and vibrant on the album opener. His time spent perfecting harmonizing with himself is evident now more than ever and the track ends with a menacing piano chord that leaves the listener damn near falling off the edge of their seat. This track is followed by “I Will You Will”, which is a particularly percussion driven tune with patchwork arrangements that recall that of his earlier work on Exhumation-era songs like “Mirabal”. The song ends abruptly and we firmly enter the middle chunk of the record which is the start of numerous ambitious musical numbers rarely clocking in under 5 minutes. We could wax poetic on any of these songs but in keeping with the undeniable mysterious tone of this record we will let it speak for itself. Suffice to say, Hatfield is no stranger to dense and challenging songwriting. His earliest work in the project The Sea Wolf Mutiny was by far his most melody centric and pop-leaning musical endeavor. But don’t be fooled by Sea Wolf’s palatable sense of melody. They were a capital letters HUGE sounding live band that managed to perplex the hearts of an entire crowd despite the easy on the ears arrangements. Somehow even back in those days we always knew there was a not so hidden brilliant composer waiting to burst out from his cocoon. Though Numbtongue is a project that is overflowing with musical intricacies, Hatfield has far from lost his masterful grasp of melody and harmony. I can’t name another act that has simultaneously made me want to hit the theory books and revisit Fab Four Beatles in the same breath quite like Numbtongue. Bobby has simply put found the perfect balance between his advanced musical prowess and his knack for writing unforgettable tunes. ‘Phantom Limbs’ is a shining example of the unending depth of beauty of one of South Carolina’s most thought provoking songsmiths. We at Comfort Monk would like to see it included in a musical time capsule of must-be-heard SC classics.
Photo by Kati Baldwin