Critical Mass


Reviews of 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues

by Michael Toland

Sacramento's Anton Barbeau has built quite a smart'n'sassy catalog of independent pop releases, and while those titles haven't exactly put him on the fast track to massive commercial success, they've made fast friends with critics and diehard loyalists in the underground pop community. If his fifth album, 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues, is any indication, it's easy to understand why. Song titles like "Dig My Pig," "Who Was The Green Bird?" and "Glucose For Baby" may lead to some noggin-scratching, but the melodies that accompany them will cause much head nodding, foot tapping and air guitar. Barbeau is a master of the Badfinger/Kinks/Jellyfish/early XTC type of power pop tuneage, and he makes the most out of his limited budget by substituting inventive guitar and harmony arrangements for production flash. He's also got the perfect voice for the music, with just the right balance of winsomeness and grit. One listen to near-perfect gems like "My Babe, When She Wears a White Wig ("she goes jingle jangle jingle on a twelve-string guitar"), "Jane Too Soon" and the ballad "Another Stoned Piano" ("Oh my god I've been blown open again," he sings plaintively) will hook any pop music fan immediately, and they're just the tip of his iceberg. Fans of likeminded folks like Brendan Benson and Doug Powell should add Anton Barbeau to their wish lists immediately.


by Brian Baker

It's probably no accident of circumstance that Sacramento basement pop prodigy Anton Barbeau has made a professional connection with Game Theorist/Loud Family member Scott Miller. Miller, who has produced single tracks on the last two Barbeau discs, has long made a career of creating the most strangely appealing music that is the most angularly at odds with what the music industry considers marketable. Barbeau must surely feel a kinship with Miller in that regard. With his previous trio of homemade minor masterpieces, Barbeau established the idea that he could move the world of pop, given a long enough lever, a big enough fulcrum and a decent enough budget. Now on his latest lo-fi pop epistle, 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues, he defiantly shows that he neither requires nor desires that budget, especially if it means relinquishing the ability to make the kind of wonderfully skewed, unrepentantly off-kilter pop magic that he's chased around for the past five years. Barbeau peels off references to Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Neil Young, Andy Partridge and Mitch Easter so effortlessly that it seems he's channeling their spirits at times. Luckily, Barbeau never once regurgitates his pop influences, he merely peppers his own recipes with their seasonings. He subjects his frequently vunerable vocals to the gymnastics of his trebly falsetto, which misses as often as it hits, but is weirdly effective either way. The gorgeous minor-key Toddly piano ballad "Who Was the Green Bird?" is counterpointed with the muscularly Youngian "Hope Joy Fear (and too much beer in the dressing room)," which is in turn softened by the Let's Activity pop genius of "Dig My Pig" and "My Babe, When She Wears a White Wig." It's clear that Anton Barbeau has no need of major-label compromise as long as he can consistently wring this kind of delightfully flawed perfection from his personal sonic lair.


by Geoff Cabin

Over the last several years Anton Barbeau has released some of the most distinctive and singular albums on the indie rock scene. And he continues to do so with his latest release, 17th Centruy Fuzzbox Blues.

While Barbeau tends to be known for his somewhat eccentric lyrics and song titles, the music on this disk is very catchy and easliy accessible. For the most part, the music features the stripped-down sound of guitar, bass and drums, and leans toward the rock end of the pop-rock spectrum.

The opening track, "Little Daisy," is a catchy, hard-edged rocker. "Six Hours Later" and "My Babe, When She Wears A White Wig" are also catchy rockers. "Another Stoned Piano" is a desolate-sounding ballad with spare guitar accompaniment. Anton changes pace a bit with "Theme From Volkswagen," a jazzy piano and synth instrumental that sounds like Ramsey Lewis. "Who Was The Green Bird?" is a lovely and melancholy ballad with piano accompaniment that sounds like early Bee Gees. "Lara Brushing Her Hair In L.A." is a wonderfully catchy rocker that is every bit as enchanting as its title would suggest. For me, though, the piece-de-resistance is "Dig My Pig." In spite of its ridiculous title, which has no apparent connection to the song, this is an absolutely gorgeous pop rock creation.

This disk provides an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with the unique pop of Anton Barbeau.


by Teresa Esguerra

Anton Barbeau just makes it look and sound so damn easy. While the rest of us are agonizing over our own vain songwriting attempts, I imagine Anton crafting his pop confections with the ease and assurance of a magician. His fifth disc, 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues, will only further Barbeau's reputation as one of Sacramento's premier songwriters.

From the opening bars of track one, "Little Daisy," it's apparent that Anton is never short on hooks. What makes him such a precious commodity to the pop music scene is that he doesn't inundate the listener with the same hook over and over again. In other words, no two songs sound the same -- from the wah-wah guitar psychedelia of "My Babe, When She Wears a White Wig" to the edgy blues-inflected "Hope Joy Fear." My favorite tunes, "Pin For a Head" and "Six Hours Later," showcase Anton's undeniable flair for the quirky and catchy.

17th Century Fuzzbox Blues features an impressive guest roster, including bassist Larry Tagg, Deathray's James Neil on drums, and an appearance by Mumbo Gumbo's Chris Webster. But in the end it comes down to Anton, who proves once again he can do it all.


by Rodney Gibbs

Anton Barbeau crafts one hell of a pop song. Be it an assignment for a songwriting class ("Dig My Pig") or a retelling of Roman Polaksni's Repulsion ("Jane too Soon"), Barbeau can go-go-go. The ditties are slight, some little more than two chords bouncing back and forth. The lyrics, too, are sweet and odd and tasty -- just the right mix to leave you singing along after only a listen or two.

By no means do I intend to cast aspersions on simplicity. I love simplicity. Some of my best friends are simple. And Barbeau knows that simple and pop are a potent mix. Take "My Babe, She Wears a White Wig." Here, Barbeau crafts a delightfully contagious tune from standard elements, yet it's the refreshing little spy-theme-tinged wah-wah guitar, coupled with silly and sing-along-able lyrics that lure you in. Barbeau's taking it back, doing it old-school. These are '60s style bubble gum pop songs like 1910 Fruitgum Company used to do.

Some songs, such as "Pin for a Head," go goofy, telling funny and revealing love woes in true They Might Be Giants style. These are the kind of songs that make me want to skip school and go pee in the woods. You know what I'm saying? Turn it up loud and annoy the neighbors with turbo pop. I think doing so would make ol' Barbeau proud. After all, what better flattery for a pop songsmith than to see his listeners dancing around the living room making fools of themselves? Here's to looking ridiculous and having a great time doing it.


by John F. Butland

Barbeau is back for another round of his patented skewed pop music. 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues is a little looser than his last one and that makes for an even more inviting and welcoming listen. The sound is also a tad more varied, though there are still plenty of his dense pop-bombs. The addition of a little more air into tracks like "Six Hours Later" makes them slightly more ephemeral but no less worthwhile. For "Another Stoned Piano," it's just a boy and his guitar. "My Babe, When She Wears A White Wig" would be perfectly at home on a Loud Family LP; at least until the wah-wah '60s guitar line enters. Loud Family scion Scott Miller produces the opening "Little Daisy," proving that the similarities are not purely accidental.


by Anne-Louise Foley

Maybe all's fair in love and war, but in the world of music, there ain't no justice. If there was, Britney and N-Sync would be reduced to life-long servitude in K-Mart and Anton Barbeau would be feature in every jukebox.

Hailing from Sacramento, California, the fuzzy-topped one has released his fifth album and the second on the Frigidisk label. His most notable influence is Julian Cope, the English idiosyncratic 80s popster and former front man of The Teardrop Explodes. Anton writes pop songs in their purest form -- there's no "I love you baby" bullshit here, unless he's in a particularly sarcastic mood. This album is more experimental than previous outings. Where last year's Splendid Tray was heavily Dylanesque, 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues throws in drum machines ("Glucose for Baby"), kitschy instrumentals ("Theme from Volkswagen," "Casio"), a bit of blues ("Hope Joy Fear (and too much beer in the dressing room)"), and well...fuzzboxes everywhere else.

Of course, there's some of Anton's tender ballads, "Who was the green bird," and the usual throwaway pop tunes like "Little Daisy," which boasts the refrain "Do you think I'm a creep/or a lyrical guy?" The album's highlights are the atmospheric "Dig my pig" and the heartfelt "Lara brushing her hair in LA." Perhaps not as initially engaging as Splendid Tray, Fuzzbox is a grower. It's certainly more consistent than his first albums, The Horse's Tongue and Waterbugs and Beetles. Cheesy as it sounds, Fuzzbox is the soundtrack to an artist gaining maturity. Which is more than can be said for a generation of teenage crooners with enough testosterone to blow a hole in the world.


by Kevin Mathews

Yippee! Anton Barbeau is back!

Barbeauís latest artistic effort takes itís cue mostly from Scott (Loud Family) Miller, right from the opening Miller-produced "Little Daisy." With its curious wordplay -Ė "Do you think Iím a creep or just a lyrical guy?" -Ė and winning combination of offbeat melodic beauty, "Little Daisy" is fairly representative of where Barbeau is coming from.

Other highlights include the majestic simplicity of "Dig My Pig" -Ė with its hypnotic Edge-like riff and wide-eyed sleigh bells, the ballads "Another Stoned Piano" ("I came home to find the headphones on your head, smiling Neil Young") & "Who Was The Green Bird?"

With the easily infectious psych folk rock of "Six Hours Later," "My Babe When She Wears A White Wig," "Pin For A Head," "Jane Too Soon" and "Lara Brushing Her Hair In LA," Barbeau never strays away from a consistently strong palette of dynamic and meaningful material.

Three enlightening instrumentals ("Theme from Volkswagon"/"Theme From Drag Team Three"/"Casio") provide the unexpected surprise delights and outline Barbeau's creative energy.

The production may be spare and the performances functional in parts, but this album amply demonstrates that there is indeed life in the "quirky" singer-songwriter genre yet.


by David Fufkin

Anton Barbeau is one of the best unknown pop singer-songwriters in the world, period. If this were 1970, and PopMatters was Creem, and I were Lester Bangs (I know, I know, in a collective sigh and reader rebuttal to me: "Lester Bangs was a friend of mine, and you, Mr. Fufkin, are no Lester Bangs"), this review would cause all of you to run down to the local record shop to plunk your $3.99 down on this album. Even though we can't go back in time, and I'm no Bangs, and PopMatters isn't Creem, the reality is that this artist and this CD is creem of the crop pop music that deserves a wider audience, an audience that includes you. I've reviewed Mr. Barbeau in PopMatters before (A Splendid Tray), and I like this release even more than the last one. The stripped down arrangements really worked for me, because it allows the listener to really hear the nuances of Barbeau's performances, all the while allowing the listener to understand the clever, quirky, literate Barbeau lyrics.

"Little Daisy" starts the CD with a rolling, soaring chorus filled with hooks. It is produced by Scott Miller of The Loud Family, a great artist who has worked with Anton before. A rousing opener. "Dig My Pig" is highlighted by Barbeau's high, soft voice with well-placed background vocals. "Six Hours Later" is another trademark Barbeau-sounding track, with the Barbeau voice front and center.

Anybody doubting my focus on Barbeau's vocals needs to listen to the stripped down composition, "Another Stoned Piano", where his vocals soar over the acoustic guitar "...Oh My God, I've been blown open again..." Great. The moment of the album. A close second is the piano and vocal composition, "Who Was the Green Bird?" An amazing vocal. Lennonesque. Anton is sometimes in Lennon's vocal neighborhood, and when he is, it'll give any living, breathing person chills.

"My Babe When She Wears a White Wig" chugs along with wah wah guitars and mentions of 12-string guitars with beautiful melodies, and again, vocals. "Theme From Volkswagen" reminds me of a jazzy, late '60s soundtrack to a Peter Sellers movie. And how can you not like a song called "Hope Joy Fear (and too much beer in the dressing room)"? The title is right up there with the Godfathers classic "Birth, School, Work...Death". Then, there is "Lara Brushing Her Hair in L.A." which I call a moment song, one of my favorite kinds. Just substitute someone special to you for Lara, and your hometown for L.A., and you'll be in the "moment."

One reviewer colleague of mine gave me her perspective on recordings: "If the vocals don't work for me, I will hate the record". Well, I think that is true with the public at large too. I unabashedly, without reservation, recommend this recording. It has quality songs, performances, production, arrangements and vocals. Anton's got the goods.


by Claudio Sossi

With his reputation as one of pop's more aggressive experimentalists, Anton Barbeau has created a sound that is, simply, all his own. Thanks to both his signature vocal style and bold arrangements, Barbeau's daring has lead to challenging listening -- which can also be called "difficult" listening. Barbeau started to deliver his unique view of what pop is about with a more consistent nature on his A Splendid Tray last year, and further hones his craft to great affect on 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues.

Still as adventurous as ever, Barbeau's range offers a greater sense of completeness here -- there's a fuller realization here than on previous releases. "Little Daisy" heralds this right from the start before moving into the anthem "Dig My Pig." From there, the proceedings run the gamut from lounge instrumental ("Theme From Volkswagen") to bouncy piano-pop (the great "Pin For A Head") to the folk flavour of "Lara Brushing her Hair In L.A." Again, we get to hear Barbeau be, well, Barbeau, but at the same time we're less inclined to select just a few of our favourite tracks.

There's plenty to like on 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues (it is in fact the best thing Barbeau has ever done) and Barbeau should find himself continuing his trend of winning new converts with each release.

Lucky folks.


by Jeff Norman

17th Century Fuzzbox Blues is, curiously, both subtler than Barbeau's previous work and for the most part more immediately accessible. That is, much of Barbeau's appeal is his febrile imagination, yet here he's both more musically direct and more lyrically brooding. On the one hand, we have tuneful, winning pop songs like the effervescent opener "Little Daisy" (with its nicely abraded guitar), "Six Hours Later," and "Lara Brushing Her Hair in L.A." On the other, there's the stark "Who Was the Green Bird?": delivered in Barbeau's sandy, Lennonesque voice accompanied only by piano, it sounds like an anguished inner searching along the lines of Lennon's "God." But the lyrics are inscrutable. While some songs are among Barbeau's best, the CD is weakened by a handful of doodles. But the twenty-five quality minutes (out of thirty-nine) have made this one of my more listened-to CDs of 2000.