Reviews: Natural Causes
THE BIG TAKEOVER
At 25 years and almost 20 albums (and counting), Barbeau is no stranger to fans of eclectic pop rock. That said, the Sacramento-to-Berlin songwriter/multi-instrumentalist's new LP functions as an introduction. Re-recording old songs and adding a few new ones, he presents a resumé of sorts—a series of tracks demonstrating what he does best. As always, he veers from the quirkiness of "It's the Coffee That Makes the Man Go Mad" and "Neck Pillow" to the accessibility of "Summer of Gold," "Magazine Street," and the powerhouse "Just Passing By." But it's his remarkable ability to wrap some truly odd ruminations on "Creepy Tray" and "Secretion of the Wafer" in melodies the Beatles would happily own that makes Barbeau special.
While Barbeau is a prolific and tireless musician, picking through his catalog for the good stuff can be challenging. But on Natural Causes, it’s easy — as “Magazine Street” is a jangling pop treasure, with a strong bass line and hook in the chorus. “It’s The Coffee That Makes The Man Go Mad” has Anton’s quirky lyrics and instrumentation with some nice harmonies. Some of these tunes are from his past catalog of work, but there is a good amount of polish in the production that makes this his most accessible album in years.
“Disambiguation” and “Magic Sandwiches” both are good distillations of the Barbeau artistic aesthetic, and I like to compare it to Adrian Belew in some other universe. Not everything here sticks, but enough does. More standouts include “Just Passing By” and “Down Around the Radio.” This is the Anton Barbeau that I’ve been waiting for.
We've covered the very wonderful Anton Barbeau a couple of times here at HDHQ—last year's "Heaven Is In Your Mind" 7" and the excellent Three Minute Tease LP made with members of the Soft Boys and XTC. Mr. Barbeau is such a productive and creative free-spirit, it's always reassuring to know that new music is never too far away, and never disappoints. His latest album Natural Causes came out a week ago and is as good an entry point into Anton's oeuvre as you'll find, containing new material mixed in with old favourites re-worked. Eclectic, intelligent and with occasional sphinx-like mystery and depth, it holds together as both a new album and a cohesive "best of," full of shimmering jangle, idiosyncratic melodies, sometimes elusive time signatures and lyrics to maintain your interest and ruminations long after the album's final track fade out.
The record came into being after attempts at a more political album Applewax were ditched. Says Anton—"Applewax was full of gun-loving rednecks and I just decided there was no good putting more of that back into the world." A fair point, and perhaps the material recorded will one day find a suitable release. We can all agree there's perhaps too much heaviness and doom around presently. Optimism, positivity and good vibes are in shorter supply so floppy hats off to Anton for making that decision. Mellotrons, MiniMoogs, 12-string acoustic guitars all contribute to the general breezy, uplifting feel, but the lyrics ensure the record is fun but far from lightweight.
An old favourite "Magazine Street" gets a re-working and opens the album. Among the new material is "Mumble Something" and "Magic Sandwiches" (how can you resist a title like that!). "Secretion Of The Wafer" featured on Anton's recent Fruits de Mer 7" but is here in its earlier original recording. My favourite tracks on the album are "It's The Coffee That Makes The Man Go Mad" with its beguiling time signature and earworm chorus and "Disambiguation," a thought-provoking study in modern psychedelic pop.
Classic Barbeau and a solo record in name but Natural Causes was made with a little help from his friends. Guest musicians include Andy Metcalfe (Soft Boys), Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw (Bevis Frond), Robbie McIntosh (guitarist for The Pretenders, Paul, McCartney), Michael Urbano (Todd Rundgren, Neil Finn) and Karla Kane, who duets with Anton on "Neck Pillow." If you're unfamiliar with the music of Anton Barbeau, Natural Causes is a great place to start.
Raised in Sacramento, California and now based in Berlin, Germany (he’s had stints in merry olde England, too), Anton Barbeau is one of those totally underappreciated songwriters that every city seems to have. The guy really is a talent and can play any instrument. He gets compared a lot to Robyn Hitchcock and every record (he’s got a lot of them out) he seems to get a buncha semi-famous folks to play on them and this one is no exception (no Paul McCartney or anything but he does get Nick Saloman to add some guitar as well as Robbie McIntosh, the Corner Laughers' Karla Kane and Khoi Huynh plus Allyson Seconds, etc.). Despite being so talented I’ve, at times, had a hard time with his records but not this one, it’s hits all the way through. Apparently, his Spanish label, You Are the Cosmos, wondered what a jangly pop record Anton could make and voila! He made one though there’s lots of beautiful psychedelic flourishes on this one as well and it’s an excellent record. Opening cut “Magazine Street” was apparently on his first album way back when (I guess some of the songs on here are re-recorded ones from earlier albums) and don’t miss trippy gems like “Secretions of the Wafer” and “Magic Sandwiches” and the gorgeous, swaying “Just Passing By.” Anton is going to keep doing what he does regardless of whether you listen or not so make it easier on yourself and just listen. Your life will be better and so will his (fun fact side note: the Wikipedia page tells me he’s the cousin to actress Adrienne Barbeau who I’ve had a crush on for like 40 years so how about that).
by Lee Zimmerman
Anton Barbeau has made his name in power pop circles for quite some time now, but sadly, it seems the wider world is simply too slow to catch on. One can only hope that assessment will change with the release of Natural Causes, his exceptional new album and one that finds him pulling out all the stops. Exceptional melodies and an exuberant attitude elevates these grooves and provides them their shimmer. Applying a hint of psychedelia and some tangled philosophy (check out “It’s the Coffee That Makes the Man Go Mad,” a treatise on caffeine versus recreational drugs of the standard variety), Barbeau offers up another varied and vibrant effort, one that’s occasionally woozy but consistently appealing all the same.
Those that gravitate towards songs of a more cosmic variety will find plenty to entice as well. The big and bold opener “Magazine Street” offers initial indication, with other entries such as “Disambiguation” and “Mumble Something” providing assertive backup. The loping “Down Around the Radio” and the chamber pop approach of “Just Passing By” find common ground in their ‘60s sensibilities, further confirmation of the fact that Barbeau is a paisley pop rocker with a prime pedigree and both the talent and mindset to match.
by Ian Rushbury
Natural Causes is a distillation of the essence of Barbeau. It combines the quirks, the melodic devices, the musicianship and the whimsy and presents them in the most user-friendly format to date... Natural Causes would make a great inroad into the strange and beautiful world of Anton Barbeau.
The opening track sets out the stall for the rest of the record. "Magazine Street" is a tidy pop-rock gem, all strummy guitars, airy melody and Andy Metcalfe's overachieving bass adding details and curlicues in a very pleasing fashion. In a perfect world and on a level playing field, this tune would be lurking at the top end of the Top Ten even as we speak. "It's the Coffee That Makes the Man Go Mad" throws a bit of Syd Barrett whimsy into the mix but has the decency to be stuffed full of cute melodic hooks... this record is stuffed with good, solid and most importantly, accessible songs... if he's ever going to make it onto the cover of Rolling Stone, Natural Causes is his best shot so far.
A PESSIMIST IS NEVER DISAPPOINTED
by Glenn Griffith
The new album by Anton Barbeau blends the musician's familiar, playful take on power-pop, with a more lyrical, inspired spin on the sort of stuff Todd Rundgren could once be reliably counted on to provide. Natural Causes is a fine record, one that is sure to appeal to fans of XTC and Jellyfish, and, of course, Rundgren's stuff.
Robbie McIntosh of McCartney's band adds some guitars to the lush "Disambiguation," one of the highlights here, and "It's The Coffee" reminded me of Split Enz a bit, another major compliment to the skills of Barbeau at delivering this sort of thing. Elsewhere, "Magic Sandwiches" sounds like you might imagine, but it's less silly and brighter than you'd figure, while "Just Passing By" positively rocks, the chords sharp and crackling ones. And while I suppose that a lot of listeners will be drawn to this because of how Rundgren-ian lots of Natural Causes sounds, or because of the guests on this record (Andy Metcalfe, members of Bevis Frond, Karla Kane, etc.), but what those listeners should really be attracted to is Barbeau's ease here at crafting material like this. This is really good stuff for power-pop fans, especially anyone who's worn out their copy of Oranges and Lemons.
Ian Hunter via Robyn Hitchcock via Luke Haines, wrapped inside an enigma, the Sacramento born, Berlin-based, Anton Barbeau changes his style of delivery repeatedly yet always maintains an idiosyncratic ingenuity in whatever he does... Not so much softening up as choosing a more personal, peaceable approach to "glorious sounding" maverick pop, Barbeau has produced something quite stunning and timely (Barbeau fast approaching his 50th birthday): a cerebral album both instantly memorable, melodic and yet adventurous and inventive... Fans of Barbeau will be once again charmed by his unique songwriting abilities, and those still unfamiliar with the inimitable generation X artist of renown will find much to love about his psychedelic pop genius.
Once again, Anton Barbeau is an instant favorite here in babysueland. We're been blown away by this guy's music in the past so we were psyched as hell to receive this, his latest album. Prior to recording Natural Causes Barbeau was working on something called the "Applewax project." That project wasn't going as planned, so Anton switched channels and began recording this album. Apparently an excellent move, because these tracks will please the same folks who were so impressed with Magic Act (Barbeau's last album). Causes contains some remakes ("Magazine Street," "Creepy Tray," "Just Passing By"), some songs rescued from the Applewax project, and some that are brand new. Anton plays most of the instruments but the album also features the talents of an extraordinary group of folks (too many to mention here, but take our word for it... this guy associates with some amazing folks). These classic guitar-driven pop tracks may remind listeners of The Young Fresh Fellows or even David Bowie at times. The chord progressions are smart, the melodies wonderfully effervescent, and the vocals absolutely hit the target dead on. Add killer arrangements and thought provoking lyrics into the equation... and you end up with pure pop magic. This is one of those rare cases where everything works. Killer cuts include "Magazine Street," "Disambiguation," "Magic Sandwiches," "Neck Pillow," and "Down Around the Radio." Highly recommended. TOP PICK.
Joined by an assortment of guest musicians, whose collective CV includes The Pretenders, Paul McCartney, the Bevis Frond, Todd Rundgren and The Soft Boys among others, multi-instrumentalist Barbeau has shaped an album of idiosyncratic, acid tinged, "pre-apocalyptic Psychedelic Pop" songs drenched in ancient Mellotrons, analog synths and 12-string guitars... A stunningly brilliant record of fantastic, quirky, timeless Psych Pop that any discerning PsychHead really needs to hear. We gotta admit that down in our psychedelic basement, even though we are massive fans of Cope, Hitchcock, XTC and the Bevis Frond, the psychedelic sounds of Anton Barbeau had gone way below our radar until this beauty dropped through the post portal, so Natural Causes works as both an introduction for new fans of the “cult hero’s cult hero” and a sparkly reminder for those that have tried to follow Anton Barbeau through his limited releases on obscure indies for a while now. Check this out People, you won't be disappointed.