Friday, October 19, 2012

The Barbaras...finally, a record

I've got a little review of the Barbaras one-and-only album, a piece of work that very nearly never got released.

The review's up at Blurt.

The Barbaras 2006-2008

The Barbaras, out of Memphis, made goofy, rough-edged, addictively tuneful garage pop. They performed with props and costumes, putting on elaborate shows for scanty punk crowds. A fixture in the Memphis scene of the late aughts, their recorded output was, up until now, a 7" single put out by Goner in 2010. The a-side, "Summertime Road," got a fair amount of blog love, its bleary good cheer nearly drowned in distortion and bottom-of-a-deep-well sonics.

The Barbaras' full-length is altogether cleaner and more pop, the group's giddy psychedelic side and penchant for melody brought out by clearer production. It was produced, as it happens, by Jay Reatard, and at about the same time that Reatard was, himself, turning towards tunefulness with Watch Me Fall.

The Barbaras album was originally slated for release on In the Red in 2010, but very nearly never got released at all. The band was closely aligned with Jay Reatard - they opened for him and two members (Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes) were in his band. Reatard was producing the album - and had the master tapes and files - when Pope and Hayes quit his band mid-tour in October 2009. Bad feelings flowed and Reatard threatened to destroy the tapes. A few months later he died, and everyone assumed that the Barbaras sessions were lost forever. But then Alicia Trout found the files on Reatard's hard drive and the project was revived.

The Barbaras have mostly moved on - three of them are in the Magic Kids, others have moved out of Memphis - but their lone full-length album makes you wish that they had continued. It's poised somewhere between the straight-up, one-two punk of bands like Tyvek and the languid pop of Real Estate. "Flow," which first appeared on the "Summertime Road" single, here expands into psychedelia, lush vocal harmonies draped over its twitchy, tetchy rhythm. "Super Ball" bounces between silly exuberance and romantic longing. Reatard was fascinated, during the last years of his life, with New Zealand lo-fi pop, and it's easy to see how that might have slipped into the Barbaras' toolbox as well. "Topsy Turvy Magic" reflects Kinks-ish musical hall through the Clean's fuzz-crusted mirror, even adding some Wilson-esque vocal flourishes on top. Yet however elaborate the arrangements can get, there's a disarming, punk-style enthusiasm behind them.

Let's not kid ourselves. If The Barbaras 2006 - 2008 had never gotten out, not much in music or life or art would have changed. But these songs go down like melted ice cream on a warm day, and you've hardly finished one when another one charms its way into view. They're fun, they're easy to love, and they're here. Isn't that enough to celebrate?

DOWNLOAD: "The Flow," "Topsy Turvy Magic" JENNIFER KELLY

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