Reviews: Kenny vs. Thrust
THE BIG TAKEOVER (print edition)
by Michael Toland
Sacramento native/Berlin resident Barbeau isn’t just prolific—there’s not a bum album in his 30-plus bunch. Kenny is no exception. Consisting mostly (but not exclusively) of older songs given new coats of paint, the collection uses two backing bands: Kenny, his Sacramento-based group, and Thrust (AKA Charms Against the Evil Eye) from the U.K. Rocking a bit harder than usual, Barbeau fills the record with sweetly crunchy (or jangly) guitars, surreal lyrics that makes sense once you let them sit in your brain awhile, psychedelic marshmallow plushness, and melodies, melodies, melodies. “Haunted in Fenland,” “Beautiful Bacon Dream,” “Burning Burning,” and “Popsong 99” are some of his best recordings yet, and they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Fans need this and newcomers should start here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
by Kevin Burke
The right attitude from the musical anomaly that is Anton Barbeau. As always, it is a pleasure to hear new music from this effervescent talent. His latest offering comes by way of Los Angeles based Big Stir Records escapes to audiences on January 24, under the title Kenny Vs. Thrust. The title, as curious as it seems makes sense as the album unfolds. The titled characters—Kenny his backing band in the US, whilst Thrust is Anton’s band across the Atlantic in the UK. However, both appear on this album, giving extra scope to the release, and weighing in with different techniques, albeit under the density of some savage synth courtesy of the man himself.
Remaining relevant in the ever-changing landscape of music seems effortless to this Sacramento styled Julian Cope. He appears to thrive on pushing boundaries, and here Anton has let loose a collection of songs which are not only strong, but reach back to his younger years. From the outset, and the cracking “Wire From The Wall” the proof is in the assaulting guitar crank. A track which chugs away as if a locomotive managing to stay on the rails. Hunkered in a post-punk world where the vocals of Anton give a dramatic edge of goth to the proceedings.
Moving onward into the upbeat “Land Of Economy”, with a tongue-in-cheek view of modern society, and our impatience to worry about the small things, while trying to avoid wider issues. “Beautiful Bacon Dream” is driven by the simplest of riffs while a full on wall of distortion builds with the vocals, the guiding light of lyricism through this mini-adventure. The clean chiming of “Jingle Jangle” edges close to a commercialism, but only slightly. With its lush arrangement, it manages to break into different textures than preceding tracks. There is a slight air Marc Bolan to Anton’s vocals on “Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag”, the acoustic-driven stomper is extremely enjoying. As it flows into “Haunted In Fenland”, the melodic urgency becomes ecstatic, without challenging the listener.
Kenny Vs. Thrust continues with one of the standouts “Popsong 99”, the venomous fragility of Anton’s voice becomes as addictive as the beautiful power pop that forms the backdrop. Similarly to the Beatlesque, late-sixties thud of the curiously wonderful “Mahjong Dijon”. Finishing with “Burning Burning”, an eclectic ballad, that is vast in scope, and the perfect finale. Ultimately, Anton Barbeau has kicked off the new year with a solid album, and the use of two bands lends a fine balance, and depth to the overall sound. What is pitted as the first go-to release of 2020 delivers on the promise, and then some. Though, one thing is certain, a year from now this release will find its way into those annual ‘best of’ lists.
LOUDER THAN WAR
by Ian Canty
New album by Anton Barbeau, where he is backed by two separate outfits, Sacramento’s Kenny (presumably not the light pop act that backed Dennis Waterman) and Oxford’s Thrust… Ian Canty attempts to answer the eternal question “Who would win a boxing match between a chicken with a man’s body and a man with a kangaroo torso?”
Anton Barbeau continues his ferocious work rate with this new album. For this record he has used two backing bands named Kenny (not the Minder “singing the theme tune” act) and Thrust. Each of the three Kenny members are given an appropriately Captain Beefheart-style nickname, whilst Thrust are honoured with one word ephitets. These outfits currently act as Anton’s backing bands for live work in the US and UK respectively.
On the LP sleeve the bands’ separate contributions are I think denoted by either a chicken or man’s head, as per the sleeve illustration. There’s also room for one tune with Barbeau in solo guise – the track Jingle Jangle, which is as cutting lyrically as it is, erm, jangly. A 21st century version of The Searchers caught on a particularly sarky moment perhaps, perfect pop with an acid touch “Love me, hate me, but don’t penetrate me”. Elsewhere he takes songs from his own back catalogue and reworks them, the new performances are given an extra shot of vigour and expertly delivered by either band.
So how do Kenny and Thrust stack up in this musical pugilist bout? How does Barbeau marshal his troops? Well to begin with there’s no real unevenness which could have been a major concern with the changing personnel. Both bands provide plenty of arse-booting energy and craft here, with each aggregation a good fit for each song. As for the artist himself, Barbeau is often compared to Robyn Hitchcock and other sharp-witted and psych-inclined songsmiths, but on this record he reminded me most of all of the great Jonathan Richman. This was particularly evident for me on the fine and rockin’ Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag.
But we need to put these comparisons aside as Anton is his own man with his own quirks and provides here something very much required in this day and age – a great pop album brim-full of tunes to charm the listener. Looking at the Kenny tracks first, Clean Clothes quickly lodged itself in my synapses and Land Of Economy gleams with paisley pop charm. It is adorned with a big and addictive chorus and Back To Balmain is similarly catchy with a real drive, but verges on synth pop. High quality synth pop that is.
On Tidy Up Yourself Anton seems to be demanding both corkscrew-haired pop moppet Leo Sayer and reggae legend Bunny Wailer (alongside a few other well-known names) work on their respective lives for some reason. It loads up a hoard of great daft effects upon a light reggae beat – this song is borderline bonkers but it really works, a real joy. Finally for Kenny we have Burning Burning, acoustic but driving folk pop that provides a fitting end to the album.
Moving on to the efforts that Thrust assume musical duties for, Wire From The Wall positively burns with urgency, fuzz and feedback, and has a wry lyric with AB stating that “In your head I’ll build a nest”. Over the course of this LP, Anton does just that. Wire… is immediately pleasing and though Beautiful Bacon Dream is heralded by a backwards tape intro and has some psychedelic elements, it also throbs with post punk edginess. The music here works as a neat juxtaposition to the spaced-out words, proving there is a real eye for detail in everything Anton Barbeau does.
Haunted In Fenland has a cool bass rumble and Anton here is at his most Dylan and Lou Reed-esque. The piece builds up very nicely with another great chorus hovering above some musical mayhem. A fuzzed up spacey pop song deconstruction Popsong 99 is another beaut and Mahjong Dijon ends Thrust’s collaborations with a glistening guitar line and a good hook that is instantly memorable.
I think we have to be fair and call Kenny Vs. Thrust a very entertaining score draw. The Thrust efforts tend towards the noisy and angular, whereas Kenny’s contributions are more pop and slightly more adventurous (which is saying something). But these are generalisations not absolutes – there are crossovers all along and the album hangs together well as a consistently enjoyable and inventive collection. We need Anton’s eccentric and witty take on pop all the more these rather gloomy days. Kenny Vs. Thrust is a record for people who prefer their tunes come with a little intelligence and provides real fun for those who are prepared to listen. A fine collection.
Read the original in Italian here. From Google Translate:
Musically, to return to the heart of the discussion, we are at the usual concentration of psychedelic pop of Hitchcock-Partridge-Frond inspiration with that crazy singer-songwriter touch that Anton lavishes without sparing and that has always made it personal. If it is true that the influences are palpable, it is even more true that one of his pieces is his own piece, and you would not confuse it with that of any other author. So, given the necessary premises, "The Wire From the Wall" and "Beautiful Bacon Dream" opening seem to be redesigned outtakes of the Soft Boys repertoire, and also "Haunted in Fenland," with a somewhat Dylanesque habit, recalls the essence of our favorite Robyn...
Anton Barbeau, almost thirty years and thirty albums later, continues to impersonate the psychedelic genius free from social conventions, with a style that reminds us of our loved ones, yet unique, with the authority to intervene on the most disparate social issues without being cloying thanks to Difford wordplay that is not bought and taught. Let's hold it tight.
Prolific cult musician Anton Barbeau is the melodic dadaist for the 21st century and proves it with his strongest release in a long time. His poetic, freestyle lyrics and unique vocals are supported by solid psyche pop rhythms. It’s tough to categorize Barbeau, but his distinct style falls somewhere between Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Cope. “Wire from the Wall” is a good start with its memorable chorus and tin can percussion, then we get the XTC-meets-The Velvet Underground gem “Beautiful Bacon Dream” brimming with texture and melodic distortion.
“Jingle Jangle” has an obvious 12 string melody that feels majestic and the nonsensical “Clean Clothes in a Dirty Bag” is a slightly goofy rocker that will get you moving. Other standouts include the lush “Back to Balmain,” the quirky and catchy “Popsong 99” and “Mahjong Dijon.” The album title refers to Anton’s backing bands; “Kenny” in the US and “Thrust” in the UK. But I couldn’t tell much difference, as Anton (and the listener) is the winner in this bout. Certainly a highly recommended album.
HERE COMES THE FLOOD
by Hans Werkman
Psychedelic power pop singer and multi-instrumentalist Anton Barbeau has made his mark on both sides of the Atlantic in his storied career, so it makes perfect sense that he recorded one half of his new album with his Stateside band, Sacramento's Kenny, and the other half with a UK one, Oxford's Thrust (perhaps better known as Charms Against The Evil Eye). Now living in Berlin, but mostly found in recording studios or on stage, he has created a huge and eclectic discography that secured his place in the acid pop pantheon with the likes of Andy Partridge, Robyn Hitchcock, and Julian Cope. His way with words and sharp ear for hooks and melody made him a musicians' musician and the subject of a vocal cult following.
Kenny vs Thrust Barbeau returns to the heyday of Seventies rock, using the classic format of a rock quartet with two guitars, bass and drums, augmented by a slew of guest musicians to add extra textures and sounds. Most of the songs are not new as such. Barbeau dug deep in his back catalog to find gems from his past bands and projects, rearranging them or putting them upside down completely. His lone protest song Land of Economy, with the great line "sing me a song without a chorus / I wanna know who killed the forests", gets a full-on Paisley underground treatment, while Beautiful Bacon Dream is transformed into a sleazy, psychedelic come hither invitation.
His free-form lyricism reaches a high water mark during Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag. Imagine a stoned out of his mind Dylan doing the Oblique Strategies thing. Baroque pop gets a place is the spotlights with Back to Balmain. Often stating that he does not know himself where his word come from, it's best to go with the flow. Try googling a song that name checks both Roger Taylor and Leo Sayer and the sole result will be Tidy Up Yourself.
Kenny vs Thrust is the musical equivalent of a kaleidoscope, a treasure trove of unruly, quirky music. Ending the album with dancing skeletons and mermaids in Burning Burning, the sole solution as to make sense what just happened, is to push "repeat". Well, maybe more than once.
Anton Barbeau is, without a doubt, one of the most talented singer/songwriters of the past few decades. He's also one of the most prolific. Barbeau has released a whole slew of albums over the years. Unlike so many bands and artists who are a passing flavor of the month, Barbeau has fans all over the world who immediately welcome each and every batch of new recordings from him. Kenny Vs. Thrust is one of the most direct albums we've heard yet from Anton. The tracks were recorded with two different backing bands. Kenny is a Sacramento, California based band that backs Anton in the United States while Thrust (also known as Charms Against the Evil Eye) backs him when he's playing overseas. Some of these songs were written when Barbeau was a teenager while others are more recent compositions. If you've never been exposed to this man's music, this is as good of a starting point as any. This album presents super smart melodic guitar-driven pop/rock with real staying power. It seems like a cardinal sin that this fellow has not received more recognition and attention for his work up to this point. But the good news is that the folks who appreciate him really appreciate what he does. We've collected all of Barbeau's albums over the past few years. And we've never been disappointed, not even once. These eleven tracks are cool, vibrant, and ultimately fiendishly catchy and listener friendly. The playing is inspired and refreshing. The vocals are, as always, wonderfully cool and real. But ultimately it's the songs that make Barbeau's music so wonderfully addictive. Each and every track on this album is a direct hit, but some of our initial favorites include "Wire From the Wall," "Land of Economy," "Jingle Jangle," "Haunted in Fenland," "Popsong 99," and "Burning Burning." Highly recommended. Top pick.
THERE ONCE WAS A NOTE
by Mike DeAngelis
As a creative force, Anton's music has been compared to XTC, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope and other pioneers of the "turn and face the strange" school of pop songs meet psychedelia. Any one song can veer from a more "traditional" pop format into electronica and experimentation at the drop of a hat, then inexplicably find its way back home before the closing notes.
Everyone walks away with their own take on his music... mine was "Marc Bolan fronts The Doors with Monster-era Michael Stipe and Peter Buck from R.E.M. sitting in." Does that sound preposterous? It's not, because you'll find it all in these grooves.
Kenny Vs Thrust isn't that far removed from Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs or other journeys to the most distant realms of the creative sphere, although Anton isn't limited to wearing that single hat. You'll hear what others have heard, and you'll hear new things on your own, because the music and lyrics leave themselves open to whatever you'd like to find in them.
The opening track, "Wire From The Wall," is not a 3:32 ode to literally pulling a wire from the wall, just as Sir Paul was not literally "fixing a hole." It's an anchor point, a tether, to set the hot air balloon of abstract art into the skies, to float over you, and to allow it to be whatever you need it to be. That's where I see a Bolan connection... Marc built his own impressionistic playground, with wordplay that was often impossible to decipher on any literal level, and you were simply expected to jump in and romp without giving it too much thought.
"Beautiful Bacon Dream" begins with a sort of subverted "Peter Gunn" riff, with a beckoning "come on, come on, come on" midsection that melts into silence before launching back into the riff. Is he actually having a beautiful dream about bacon? Perhaps. It doesn't matter. It's all about the vibe, the attitude, finding some secret river in which to navigate the canoe through the rapids.
"Jingle Jangle" lives up to its name... there's wonderful, ringing guitar to spare... as Anton croons "Love me, hate me, don't penetrate me, I'm gonna walk on the sand... "
"Tidy Up Yourself"... as implied by the Marley-esque title... offers a psychedelic take on Reggae... it's all fair game here, as genres and moods are appropriated as needed, rather than piously adhered to... "Tidy up yourself, stinking sailor... Tidy up your lungs... Tidy up your bongo drums... Tighten up your toms, Roger Taylor... "
The album closes with what is perhaps its most "conventional" song, "Burning Burning," largely acoustic-driven, with wonderfully swirling electric guitar punctuations.
It's an adventure, a response to those who think they've heard it all before, that' it's all been done... multiple times... and the frontiers of exploration have been exhausted for all time. They haven't. Give this one a spin and you'll find out.