My thanks to Stu Klinger and Yianni Naslas for keeping me in the loop.
Imagine for a moment a band that had no shtick – just solid, no frills, music. It is not a rarity, but it is not commonplace in a music industry that is content with selling image and attitude, that is content on using celebrity and the personality of artists to sell an album. However, in reality, what makes a good album is one that sells itself for its music and not anything extraneous of what you are listening to, and Barnacle Bill’s eponymous sophomore album (1 March 2011 in the USA) is one of those albums. Let me start with what I would usually leave for the end: this is solid craftsmanship, devoid of production gimmicks. A New York City trio composed of Stuart Klinger (guitars, vocals), Yianni Naslas (bass, vocals), and Steve Wickins (drums, vocals), the band is truly representative of what I love about this city: straightforward, uncompromising, and passionate.
In the sense of a pre-broadband revolutionized world, “Barnacle Bill” is an album; there is sonic and thematic unity streaming through these twelve songs. Even though there are two lyricists and lead vocalists (Klinger and Naslas), they both continually question change and stability, failing love and true love. But even more intricate is the fact that the band can be anti-anthemic, that is composing songs that appear to be an “anthem” but belied by its lyrics. The opening track of the album, “Like You’re Supposed To,” is the perfect example of this. From its big fuzzy guitar chords (verging on early New York punk), the spot on thriving drumming, and Naslas de facto singing style, you expect anthem, but instead of definitive lyrical posturing to mirror the music, you get, “Change like you’re supposed to; rearrange like you’re supposed to, like you’ve been told to.” In “That’s Me,” change, as an agent, is seen very differently; Naslas sings, “from the start we’ve been asking for change, waiting day after day.” This time the music is more intimate, more personal, with a beautifully harmonized chorus, but change is not seen as force acting upon you, but rather the expected.
“The Things I’ve Done,” one of three tracks with a saxophone (played by Lloyd Goldberg), on the surface has all the makings of a carefree ballet, but again lyrically the antithesis is presented: “If I ever got to go my own way, maybe you’ll see what I’ve been trying to say…” And this is when you start to realize that early 60s rock, late 70s New York punk, and even 90s guitar pop must have influenced the band. The disconnect, between music and lyrics, is completely intentional: one draws you in (the music), as the other gives you something of substance to ponder (lyrics). But the album does not always languish in change or tortured love. In “It Doesn’t Matter Anyway,” which includes some beautiful acoustic strumming, Klinger sings, “We’re meant to be together…” So even in the ever-shifting world of change and failed relationships, there is always solace in eventually being “heart opened up and filled.”
The punky straightforward “Running Around” is followed by “Timeline,” which feigns straightforward rock until a jazzy interlude takes you by complete surprise. But it is “Uhm” that really plays with our expectations of arrangements. Definitely my favorite drumming on the album, the song consistently changes tempo and atmosphere; when you think you know what is coming next, the change is a twist on what you expected. Not every band can make as many shifts in one song, normally because the drummer is not capable – not a problem here. The close of the album is the antithesis of the opening on every level. “Oh No” is not considering change, but questioning life and relationships through a series of hypotheticals: “Would you wait,” “What would you ever do there,” and “would you wait alone” to point out a few. Musically more intricate than the arrangements sound, it is a perfect metaphor of how we often find ourselves at the end of cycles: contemplating what could be and/or could have been.
Allow me a moment to deviate in the spirit of full disclosure. My coworker (and friend), who I ride into work with almost every day with, turned me on to Barnacle Bill, as she is in a relationship with the guitarist. Of course I was very wary about committing to writing a review (and refuse to commit to any review until I have heard the music). But one listen to “Barnacle Bill,” and I was immediately drawn into the music. This is an alluring album, which is miles away from revival-mania and current indie clichés of any sort. If anything, the only revival going on with Barnacle Bill is a return to solid rock-pop craftsmanship that sells itself and not some shtick.
1. Like You’re Supposed To
2. For the Best
3. That’s Me
4. The Things I’ve Done
6. It Doesn’t Matter Anyway
7. Iron in the Garden
8. Running Away
10. Nth Street Girl
12. Oh No
Keep up with Barnacle Bill at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.