Ian Rushbury reviews the new Anton Barbeau album.
It’s a ballsy move to call your album Oh The Joys We Live For, when the entire world is living in fear of plague and pestilence, but Anton Barbeau has never really paid much attention to the contemporary zeitgeist. He does what he likes and this year, he’s made yet another folk-pop-psychedelic-indie-outsider record that sounds a lot like a lot of his other records, only more so. In other words, it’s another great record.
Hot on the heels of last years, sprawling (by law, all double albums have to be referred to as “Sprawling”) double album Manbird comes Oh The Joys We Live For. To make a lazy, Fab Four comparison, if Manbird was The White Album, then the new record is Abbey Road. Sort of. There’s a lovely lightness of touch throughout all twelve tunes and a hearty disregard for any sort of linear thread. It’s like the best jukebox in the world, but all the songs are sung by the same bloke.
If Manbird had an agenda, Oh The Joys We Live For exists for just the joy of being around. The title track leads us gently, but firmly into the album which was recorded on a farm in Sacramento with minimal equipment, but maximum imagination. If you can’t make good music with just an acoustic guitar, an electric 12-string, a Hofner bass and your software of choice, then possibly you should consider another profession. The 12-string gets a workout on Cowbell Camembert which manages to survive having the most twee title since Tallulah Gosh hung up their anoraks and turns out to be a cool hybrid of early eighties disco and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Well, I think so anyway.
One of her Superpowers has the best opening line of the year so far: “One of her superpowers / Is leaving things as they are.” You have to admit, it’s an attention grabber. Fortunately, that seminal line is bolted to a top-drawer tune with a little bit of McGuinn thrown in.
Three Days The Death Enigma is like Jacques Brel arranged for 1980s, entry level synths. The flute (well, I think it’s a flute) sounds a bit like a bowed saw and is lovely and a bit scary at the same time. That’s a good combination. Talking of the eighties, there’s quite a whiff of the decade that gave us the snood, all over Oh The Joys We Live For. Die Smiling for example. The keyboards and parping sax sound like an alternate reality version of Flesh and Blood era Roxy Music, on a budget of less than the price of a modest round of drinks.
What is surprising about this record, and Barbeau’s recorded output in general, is the consistent quality. He seems to crank these albums out without a care in the world and they’re never less than pretty great. Oh The Joys We Live For is charming, playful, airy and delicious. Isolation suits him.
You can listen to and buy the album here
or on the Big Stir site here
. You can read Ian Rushbury's writing for Pop Matters here