Beyond Reinforced Jewelcase

  • BARR
  • Upset! the Rhythm
  • 2005-11-14

Barr is Brendan Fowler, who accompanies his raw, yet lilting poetry with only the barest of drum loops. I imagine him as a character from a Linklater film, sitting on his own in his bedroom, grey hoodie pulled down past his eyebrows, listening to Slint. In some ways the musical arrangement, and the intimate honesty of the lyrics could be compared to Arab Strap. But instead of Scottish earthiness, and talk of sex and booze, Barr has an metropolitan emotional eloquence, associated with his Californian roots.

…as if a ‘fresh page’ will provide some respite from his incessant internal wranglings

He has a fascination with word play, which instead of being confined to the scribbling pad, flaunts itself on the completed record; he often experiments with several different grammatical permutations of one small phrase: “It’s a cover; or — this song is a cover; this is a cover; this is a co-ver”. This is the tone of all of his rambling musings, giving the impression of a labyrinth mind, both dragged down and inspired by nervousness and confusion: “You know, I was just talking about — I was thinking about — I don’t even know — honestly… how do you — how do I — how do any of us…” His inner duality is seen most openly where he has conversations with himself, particularly on “Like, I Used to Like” where this culminates in two versions of himself talking at once, competing with each other for room in his brain, until all he can do is silence both of them with a resigned “Whatever”, seemingly to allow himself breathing space to move onto a new train of thought; as if a ‘fresh page’ will provide some respite from his incessant internal wranglings.

Barr’s voice mostly sounds that of a questioning child. On the one hand this means that the rolling, sing-song placing of the stresses of the words have a pleasant, day-dream sensation. But on the other hand also that the majority of the album sounds like a whine for ice cream, or like a lo-fi, lost-little-boy version of Arab on Radar’s singer, or maybe the screechy vocalist from Sikth.

…he tries to do too much Aphex Twin noodling on a drum kit

The drum sounds on the first few tracks sound like a GCSE student’s first attempt at playing with Fruity Loops. But later on, “My List of Demands” reveals some more complicated percussion, where he allows the rhythmic, though shapeless, rise and fall of his speech to make the accompanying free—fall drum kit solo sound like it could have a beat, if you were to just concentrate hard enough. He plays with a similar idea in “Sing Sit Sitting”, where the lyrics are recorded in the same rhythmic-speaking style, and percussion is played over the top — though here only a hi-hat or a snare is used at any given time — in the same way, that is with the impression of rhythm, and even pulse, but really just following the pattern of the words, and picking out the breaks between phrases. It’s similar to (but not as perfect as) the way that the tabla picks out the vocals on “Hana” by Asa Chang / Junray. However, he exposes himself on “Everyone”, where he tries to do too much Aphex Twin noodling on a drum kit, only to find that his brain trips over his hands; though on the basis of the rest of record, it’s hard to tell if this is in fact deliberate.

The enjoyment of this album will probably depend on your mood — if you’re feeling a bit romantic and lost it can take on a heartfelt, Graham Coxon sensibility; if you’re feeling cynical, you may wish Barr to take his emotings on a Greyhound bus and fuck off back to Dawson’s Creek.

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