Critical Mass


Reviews of Guladong

by Kim Harten

Hot on the heels of his album King of Missouri, recorded with The Bevis Frond, Anton Barbeau releases his new album Guladong on Pink Hedgehog. The sleeve art is utterly weird, a man and woman with cats' heads, if not the same cat's head superimposed over their real heads, with a baby doll and the bizarre slogan "Have a baby... for you no fee." Something tells me this isn't gonna be run of the mill music -- and it definitely isn't! What it is is fantastic off-kilter pop that is quirky yet strongly tuneful, and homemade sounding whilst avoiding an excessively lo-fi quality. There's bits of psych, country, 60s pop, lo-fi oddness, imaginative use of vocal harmonies and eccentric humour thrown in, all merging to create something very individual sounding. An amazing album, and one I expect I'll be listening to for a long time to come.


by Christian Kiefer

Anton Barbeau's CD releases seem to come so frequently these days that one begins to wonder if he isn't suffering from the same production dysfunction that beleaguers Prince, namely a need to somehow release every musical zygote put to tape, no matter how trifling. However, one listen to Barbeau's new release Guladong clears up all such ideas. From the opening moments of "Telephones and Singalongs," Barbeau proves that he's still the master of post-1960s psychedelic pop. Furthermore, with Guladong, Barbeau seems to have a clear sense of focus, both in terms of songwriting and of production (which has a psychedelic quality without being unnecessarily drawn out). This is the kind of record that forces the listener to lose themselves in the moment, and quite a moment it is.


by Marco Rossi

Anton Barbeau is already, deservedly, a cult hero in his own right. The Sacramento-based singer/songwriter -- who I should add is also the cousin of the pneumatic Swamp Thing star Adrienne Barbeau, rowf! -- has been baffling and delighting audiences and critics for some years now with his bright, idiosyncratic and entirely compelling songs.

Andy Partridge and the Bevis Frond are fans, which should give you some idea as to the territory Anton inhabits -- especially if you stir in some early REM and a soupçon of Robyn Hitchcock.

Gently weird, literate and undoubtedly the custodian of a seriously interesting record collection, Anton would be a massive star if there was any justice whatsoever in the universe. Several of the compositions on his new album Guladong lodged themselves into my addled synapses after only one listen -- no mean feat when you consider that most new releases blow straight through the canyons of my mind and off into the ether without even touching the sides.

Honestly, if I hear a better triptych of songs than "It Won't Be Long Till The Banjo Patrol Comes Along," "Stewart Mason" and "Ruth From Leeds" this year, I'll consider myself a very lucky man indeed. And if I hear a better verse than this:

We started chattering the way that people do
You dig geology, coincidence, me too
I've got some rocks in my room
I hope you like Mitchell Froom
It's an American word -- Froom

I'll eat not only my hat but the hats of every man-jack in the place, Yes, that goes for you too, Aramis, Porthos and D'Artagnan.


by Nick Bensen

Sacramento, CA cult hero Anton Barbeau has been a Free City favorite for some time (he even contributed the track "Motor" to our Further Adventures compilation). It's quite pleasing to see Anton doing an album for another Free City favorite, Simon Felton's Pink Hedgehog Records (home of The Bitter Little Cider Apples, Cheese and Garfield's Birthday). Anton's good-natured pop hooks and the optimism within his surreal slices of life make him a perfect match for the Pink Hedgehog label's trademark catchy but deep style.

Following the big hi-fi rock sound of King Of Missouri, last year's collaboration with The Bevis Frond, Anton Barbeau serves up a homespun collection of new songs on Guladong. There are a number of songs fully developed to Anton's usual exacting standards here but the album is really given its special character by the fragmented ditties, home studio experiments and tangential instrumental tracks. Starting with "Telephones and Singalongs", which comes across like a snippet of a lost White Album ballad, Guladong launches into the robust country rock and lyrical cleverness of "You Look Good In Yellow." "Grapes On A Plate" and "Stewart Mason" find Anton restraining his urge to come up with multiple verses and instead concentrate on the word-play possibilities of simple, slightly changing phrases. "It Won't Be Long Till The Banjo Patrol Comes Along" and "The Prince Of Chairs Has The Happiest Dream In The Universe" are excellent examples of Anton's signature frantic yet literate songwriting. "Ruth From Leeds" provides an uncanny glimpse into how Anton puts his affable madcap stage persona to use in flirting. The persuasive excitement contained in the delivery of the line "Froom -- it's an American word!" (after name dropping Mitchell Froom goes nowhere in chatting up an English girl) is staggering. "Keep My Face Clean", by contrast, suggests an obsessive seriousness. "I'm Just A Country Girl" is told from the perspective of a proudly provincial Sacramento resident. Though it's a satire, the tone stays above becoming mean-spirited or condescending. You can draw your own conclusions about the intent of the Ronald Reagan samples at the end of the track. The album's best tongue-twisting word play can be found in the chorus of "Mahjong Dijon." "Chinese Boots Of Spanish Leather" carries on the tradition of the incongruous world music fusions of early Camper Van Beethoven. The heavy bass line and synth blurps also touch on vintage Hawkwind. The short title track is barely there, just a quiet drone. "King Of Missouri 2" recasts the familiar tune as a crackling dynamic roots rock anthem. The CD ends with "K's Wet Whistle", another short instrumental consisting of splashing water, whistling and a few triangle-like tones on a juicer.

Guladong is an appealing collection with a pace and variety of material that recall some of Anton Barbeau's earlier albums (especially his Antology discs). The tracks here, both the songs and the incidental numbers, are very strong and well-executed, perhaps applying lessons learned while working with The Bevis Frond on King Of Missouri as well as showing the general mastery of Anton's having been at this for quite a while now. Anton Barbeau's current project in the works is an ambitious psychedelic album entitled In The Village Of The Apples Sun -- I'm really looking forward to hearing that one.


by Mike Bennett

Listening to Anton Barbeau's music is like going into a parallel universe. Not a parallel universe where things are radically different. Instead, it's a parallel universe where things are just a little bit off. Because, if you just concentrate on the music, Barbeau pens melodic guitar rock songs that often have a strummy folk rock type base. From that standpoint, there ain't nothing unusual going on. However, what's off is Barbeau's lyrics. His loopy wordsmithing is somewhere between James Joyce and Beck on the Confuso-meter. On Barbeau's good songs, this is great -- the words are worth a smile or a chuckle. Moreover, when he's on his game, he comes up with memorable nonsensical phrases that reinforce his basic hooks.

So I end up singing the phrase "grapes on a plate" over and over (from, logically, the song "Grapes on a Plate"), because it sure sounds good with intent music underneath it. On this disc, Barbeau is definitely on. Yeah, his voice is still nasal and limited, but he works with it quite well. And there are some great songs on this album. "It Won't Be Long Till the Banjo Patrol Comes Along" is a bouncy acoustic number that reminds a little bit of Roy (The Move) Wood's solo work. This song illustrates how the prolific Barbeau has advanced as a producer and arranger, from the distant backing vocals at the end of the track to the cool compressed sound on the rollicking piano solo in the middle. He maximizes his resources to make things sonically interesting. Barbeau also shows that he can carry a more atmospheric track on "Keep My Face Clean", with a very strong lead vocal and a dramatic intensity on the mid-tempo strum (with a nice keyboard line accompanying the guitar) that makes for a great change of pace. Meanwhile, fizzy tracks like "I'm Just a Country Girl" and "King of Missouri 2" are instantly memorable and rank with Barbeau's best. He also scores bonus points for the guitar stomp "Stewart Mason", presumably referencing the columnist for Amplifier magazine -- more songs about tall rock critics, please!


by Michael Toland

Why isn't Anton Barbeau a star? Oh yeah, it's because he has song called "It Won't Be Long Until the Banjo Patrol Comes Along" and "Mahjong Dijon." Seriously, there are few songwriters as dedicated to eccentricity in pop as Barbeau -- Robyn Hitchcock and the Loud Family's Scott Miller are probably his only serious rivals. Like Hitchcock, Barbeau is a tunesmith supreme, so he can couch even the strangest lyrics in ridiculously catchy hooks; also like Hitchcock, he often uses his jumble of seemingly contradictory images to hide genuine emotional dynamics. Not that the feelings are easy to detect on Barbeau's latest album Guladong -- tunes like "Ruth From Leeds" and even "You Look Good in Yellow" may be (relatively) straightforward, but cuts like "Grapes on a Plate" and the abstract muttering-beneath-a-psychedelic-melodyfest "Chinese Boots of Spanish Leather" remain mysterious. Some cuts, like "Stewart Mason" (is it a tribute to the noted power pop critic? a dis? both?) and "The Prince of Chairs Has the Happiest Dream in the Universe" (which seems to be a rather sweet love story -- "'Til she returns/I'll have the happiest dream in the universe," he sings) were even improvised as they were recorded. Fortunately, Barbeau is such an excellent melody man it almost doesn't matter that the words refer to experiences only he himself recognizes -- "Banjo Patrol" is so damn catchy I'll be happy to give it a million listens trying to figure it out. Hell, I found myself singing along to the winsome "Keep My Face Clean" even though I've little idea what's being conveyed. Guladong isn't a masterpiece on the order of Barbeau's last album King of Missouri, but it's still a delightful, intriguing look into the mysterious musical mind of the Antman.


by J.R. Oliver

Hey, this guy is really good! You just can't pin him down! One minute he sounds like George Harrison, the next he sounds like the Monkees or Matthew Sweet, then, before you realize it, he's off on a Gibby Haynes tangent. The music is as close to pure pop perfection as one could get without sounding trite. His lyrics are clever, funny, weird, stupid, disturbing, confusing, brilliant, corny, annoyingly repetative but never... and I do mean never, ever boring. This is the only true alternative to radio. Fourteen catchy, twisted, pop genius, little ditties that promise to warp you in one way or another. The world could use more of this and less Coldplay.


by Jeff Penczak

When we last encountered this Sacramento (California) singer/songwriter, he was fronting The Bevis Frond on King of Missouri, part two of which appears here. His ninth album again features quirky-yet-catchy power pop tunes, with memorable yet off-kilter hooks. "Grapes on a Plate" is a poppy Gang of Four, "Telephones and Singalongs" is warped psychedelia like Dipsomaniacs covering The Lucky Bishops, and "You Look Good In Yellow" (obvious Blondie references aside) and "Mahjong Dijon" are the best impersonations of John "He's Gonna Step On You Again" Kongos I've ever heard.

However, it's the Bonzos that will spring to mind most often as you get deeper into Barbeau's silly love songs. He has the same skewered sense of humour (and melody) as Neil Innes and the hilarious "It Won't Be Long Till The Banjo Patrol Comes Along" (as it's title suggests) sounds like a Bonzo Kongos outtake from Gorilla: imagine Kongos covering "Urban Spaceman!" With titles like "The Prince of Chairs Has the Happiest Dream in the Universe," "Mahjong Dijon" and "Chinese Boots of Spanish Leather," it's obvious Barbeau's tongue is firmly planted in Innes' and Stanshall's collective cheeks.

Occasionally, he's at a loss for words ("Stewart Mason" is little more than the title repeated ad infinitum and "Ruth From Leeds" spends half its length explaining who the mysterious Marshall Froom is), but then he treats us to the cross-dressing shenanigans of the paeon to his hometown, "I'm Just A Country Girl" and all is forgiven. It's as wacky and wonderful as any of Jonathan Richmond's odes to Boston.

Elsewhere, Barbeau's recent visits to England have brought back a myriad of influences, from Roy Harper ("Keep My Face Clean") to Robyn Hitchcock ("The Prince of Chairs Has The Happiest Dream in the Universe" -- and if that's not a Hitchcock title, I don't know what is!). A lot of the obviously jovial atmosphere in the recording studio trickles through your speakers and I can imagine that Barbeau puts on a killer live show. Check him out when he comes to your town. Until then, pick up Guladong to whet your appetite.


by Phil Jackson

"So tell me what's so wrong with telephones and singalongs?" is the question asked on the short stark opening track of Guladong, a wonderful snatch of music that makes you immediately think of one man and one man only -- John Lennon.

Continuing in the Pink Hedgehog tradition of "thinking man's popular music," an intelligent pop song, "You Look Good in Yellow," comes next. Anton gets pretty personal on "Ruth from Leeds" and "Stewart Mason," a song that inevitably reminded me of "Tracey Jacks" by Blur.

For me, some of Guladong works better than others and I felt that some of the momentum was lost in the middle. However, the Simon and Garfunkel sing-along of the marvellously monikered "The Prince of Chairs Has the Happiest Dream in the Universe" puts things right back on course.

Ant does just about everything himself but is joined by drummer/ percussionist Brad Cross on a few tracks and a couple of bass players. The man himself plays fuzz bass on "Mahjong Dijon," a memorable song enriched by Christina Maradik's viola and a little synth break by Ant. The Beatles influence is never far away but the title "Chinese Boots of Spanish Leather" may suggest another 60s giant! It's actually nothing like Dylan at all, being a synth/ guitar based trio instrumental with Gabe Nelson on fuzz bass and Brad Cross on drums -- excellent! "King Mo 2" is another clever piece of musical characterisation while the title track is an ambient minimalist synth piece just over one minute long.

Anyone who can employ The Bevis Frond as his backing band (on the "King of Missouri" album) and count XTC's Andy Partridge as a fan has got to be taken very seriously and, despite some reservations about the consistency of the album, overall I found much to admire and am intrigued to find out more.

Well worth checking out.


by Michael Ornadet

Sacramento native Anton Barbeau recorded his last album, King Of Missouri, with psychedelic head-trippers The Bevis Frond, counts XTC's Andy Partridge and The Soft Boys among his fan base, is currently holed up in the studio with Cake's Gabe Nelson and spends the rest of his time swapping ideas with Loud Family's Scott Miller. Is there a picture building here? Barbeau's work is slightly psychedelic, slightly esoteric, slightly poppy and completely -- to use a technical term -- hatstand. This perhaps explains why he recently -- confusingly -- won a folk singer award; or perhaps it's the fact that his weapon of choice is an acoustic guitar, and his voice frequently recalls any and all of the Travelling Wilburys. Don't be confused though; this is darkly intelligent anti-pop of the highest order.