Great Aviaries comes loaded with preconceptions even before the laser hits the disc. Super Numeri hails from Liverpool, a place that, thanks mainly to a certain four-piece from the ’60s, has been dubbed “The Pop Capital of the World.” The three core members are joined by 10 additional musicians, wielding instruments ranging from electric guitar to clarinet to Celtic harp. The album is released by Ninja Tune, a label renowned for releasing dark hip-hop and electronic sounds. The cover art could have been the final image of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the group photos make the band look like a wandering nutcase circus.
But Super Numeri obliterates any hypotheses regarding this album before the end of the first track. This is not a pop record, by even the most liberal definition. This is not a cluttered mess, despite the presence of 13 cooks in the kitchen. This is not a conventional Ninja Tune release, full of splintering break beats and sinister atmospheres. And though the band photos may reek of gimmick, the blend of sound that makes up Great Aviaries is an unmistakably lovely collection of tunes that definitely amble — but never ramble.
The group typically restrains from cramming too many instruments into every track, wisely avoiding the potential confusion. Dreamy tunes like “The Electric Horse Garden” have a form dictated by light drums and flittering cymbals, slowly accumulating layers of instrumentation. Different instruments float by for a moment or two, and then slowly fade into the spacey backdrop. The velvety feel of the album originates primarily from the lingering piano and echoing vibraphone that are spread generously throughout.
Dreamland doesn’t last forever in the Aviaries, however. “When the Sun Dials” mingles a pulsing bass line with piercing saxophones for a menacing tune — play this in the neighborhood haunted house next year and bring extra underwear for the kiddies. The noisy blues-rock of “Beaks” could be mistaken for a long-lost Jimi Hendrix drug freakout/home performance. Farfisa organs, staggered drums and omnipresent hi-hats recall the experimental jazz of the late 1960s on many tunes. Owing little to any one genre, the performances here most resemble Ninja Tune staple Coldcut — not in sound, but in their ability to keep divergent fragments traveling in the same direction.
It has been said that success is a journey, not a destination, and Super Numeri are banking on it. With compositions that begin quietly and end with little fanfare, Great Aviaries is a trip that never really reaches an endpoint. Super Numeri’s performance may not always be focused, but it is confident, and that certainty is successfully passed on to the listener. One may end up lost by the close of Great Aviaries, but in these good hands, there’s nothing to worry about.