Friday, June 3, 2016

Anton Barbeau, Magic Act, 2016

Album Review

by Henry Lipput

It started with John Lennon and Syd Barrett and their surreal, psychedelic songs like "I Am The Walrus" and "See Emily Play," songs that influenced the sound of music in the late 1960s. These songs also influenced the work of later songwriters like Andy Partridge, Robyn Hitchcock, Anton Barbeau, Martin Newell, and, more recently, Robert Harrison, the mastermind behind Cotton Mather and Future Clouds And Radar.

You may not have heard of Anton Barbeau, but he's been part of this club since his debut release in 1993. And he’s just put out a groovy new album called Magic Act.

Barbeau has been part of the Three Minute Tease band along with former Soft Boys / Egyptians / Hitchcock-sidemen Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor. In fact, the new album was supposed to be released under that band's moniker but, because of the dreaded "artistic differences" gremlin, it became another Barbeau solo turn. (However, "Milk Churn In The Morning" on the new album does, in fact, feature Andy and Morris.)

Magic Act starts strong with "High Noon," a song that asks the musical question: "Did the CIA really kill the Virgin Mary by sending her on a suicide mission to the moon?" You can decide for yourself based on the information presented in the song. And Dracula is in there as well. There’s also crunching guitar and some nice sonic effects. ("Nice sonic effects" can be said of all of the songs on the album which shows that a lot of work has gone into how good the album sounds -- especially when listened to on headphones. Sorry kids. Earbuds are not headphones. Ask your CoolDad or CoolMom about this.)

Colin Moulding, who plays on Magic Act, is co-founder along with Andy Partridge of the late, great band XTC. Moulding is a terrific songwriter and great bass player. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play on "Swindon," (he plays on the album’s opening track) a song that seems to be a love letter (with vampires) to the town that XTC is from. In addition, some of the songs on the new Barbeau album remind me of The Dukes Of Stratophere, a name XTC recorded under (in secret) in the 80s, performing a pastiche (written by Moulding and Partridge) of late 60s and early 70s songs. Barbeau's "Heavy Psychedelic Toilet" and "Black Lemon Sauce" are prime examples of this.

"Milk Churn In The Morning" could have been a Lou Reed outtake from the Transformer album and it‘s a really good example of Barbeau's pop songwriting chops. And your guess as to what the milk churn stands for is as good as mine, but it's a terrific sounding song. "City By The Sea" is a lovely, slow-burner of a song with sinking cities and witches being burned on the lawn. "Hop Skip A Jump" is an acoustic-guitar turn that features a terrific, clean bass line.

Barbeau's debt to John Lennon is especially evident in "Euphemism & Innuendo" and "The Wait Of You." The first song is a spacey number that seems to encourage listeners to turn off their minds and float downstream -- but not in those words. The sound, especially the guitars, on "The Wait Of You" make it a cross between "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" and "Yer Blues."

From a mixed bag of tricks, on his new album Anton Barbeau has performed a special magic act. And you can listen in as he pulls more than a rabbit (perhaps a flying spider as one of the songs suggests) out of his hat.

Magic Act is out now on Mystery Lawn Music.

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