Critical Mass

Reviews of Waterbugs and Beetles

by Michael Toland

For the reissue of his rare second album, Sacramento bard Anton Barbeau has taken the unusual step of cutting songs from the original running order, rather than adding bonus cuts. I've not heard the first version, so I've no idea if it's a loss, but I'm happy to have this record back in print. It's not quite as wigged-out as so much of Barbeau's later work, but it's still wonderfully lyrically eccentric, super-catchy power pop. It's nice to know such a deviant mind has always owned a bottomless well of great hooks. Accessible and weird, just like the man's best.


by Kevin Mathews

...if you really dug Robyn Hitchcock in his days with the Egyptians, [you] will absolutely adore this. Sure, it's psychedelic and Barrettesque but not in an obvious way. No doubt, some of you will be able to trace the influences of Andy (XTC) Partridge and Guided by Voices as well, which is all good news. "MTV Song" is a cracker!


by Andrew Carver

Anton Barbeau is one of a legion of American pop anglophiles. The Kinks, the Beatles, XTC and Robyn Hitchcock loom large among his influences.

In Barbeau's case, the favour been returned: He's recorded with the Bevis Frond and has two albums out on Dorset's Pink Hedgehog label. The first, Waterbugs and Beetles, is a re-release of his sophomore CD from 1995. The second, Drug Free, is his last but one, from 2006.

The two albums share definite similarities: Barbeau laid down most of both albums by himself. Nine other musicians came in to lend harmonies, the odd spot of drumming and a few overdubs on Waterbugs and Beetles. On Drug Free, Barbeau once again handles the lion's share of the music-making—he's credited with vocals, guitars, a variety of keyboards, bass drums, harmonica, woodwinds and "bird-calls and nonsense"—and pulls in another large collection of helping hands (18 in all, this time) to fill out the corners.

Both albums share Barbeau's most distinctive feature (and drawback): His singing voice. It's energetic (some might say manic) and tuneful but has a nasal, tremulous side that may rub some listeners the wrong way.

That said, Waterbugs and Beetles is definitely the product of reckless youth, Drug Free the product of a seasoned veteran.

Barbeau seems to feel the same way. Although it's been lauded as his best work, he's given Waterbugs and Beetles a bit of a trim. The 19-song original is now 16 tracks over 46 minutes. "Groovy," "Jelly," "Untitled (But Sad)" and "I Want You Not Around" all get the chop as being under-recorded or just plain bad; "Beautiful Bacon Dream" also gets a dub version. (For those who worry about such things, the original cover art, a grainy black-and-white photo of a shaggy Barbeau, has been replaced with a photo of a kitten.)

Trimmed or not, the album is an eclectic offering, with pop tunes, punchier rockers and acoustic ballads keeping company with throwaway snippets. The album leaps out of the starting gate with breakneck girl ode "Allyson 23," and then slows things down for some musical grumbling on "MTV Song."

It then segues into Hitchcock territory with "A Proper Cup of Tea" (goes well with poison, apparently) and the insect-fixated title track, a gentle acoustic number that breaks for a stately but overdriven electric guitar lead part.

"Beautiful Bacon Dream" is a clunky and chunky tune based around a climbing riff—it works primarily by splitting "Waterbugs and Beetles" from the other acoustic centrepiece of the album, "The Epic Ballad of Sarah and Zoe." "The Epic Ballad" highlights Barbeau's anglophiliac streak with references to Heathrow Airport and Morris Minors.

"Complicated Umbrella Piece" is a snippet of answering machine message, "The Tad Song" is another oddity—starting as a somewhat conventional "boy-loses-girl, tells girl she doesn't know what she's missing" power-pop putdown, it veers crazily into a frenetic blizzard of noise, crashes to a halt then comes back as a hard rock tune.

"Bible Beater" is a ruder, poppier tune which contains the line "You shall get to heaven if you rub a little harder." Another oddity "Slimy Cello Piece" is just that (although it doesn't sound all that slimy, it does appear to feature a cello.)

"Long John" is a more experimental tune, with a pair of children discussing a game of hide-and-seek over a crackly loop.

"Vomit Song" is a low-fidelity goofball ramshackle strummer that borders on the novelty tune.

"Come to Me (Made of Metal)" brings things down to earth, a slow, melodic love song that brings in a crunchier electric sound just past the halfway point. It's followed by "Come (Again)," a goofier take on the same tune and by the album capper, the dub version of ‘Beautiful Bacon Dream'.

Both albums hold treats for pop fans: Some will prefer Waterbugs' scattershot songraft, quirky melodies and guitar crunch, while others will find the more refined Drug Free a more consistent pleasure. Both albums makes a good entry into Barbeau's catalogue.



Anton returns with a second helping of pop gems both spirited and bitter. All the tea you crave with just a little extra sugar added to disguise the taste of poison, this one is as mouth-watering as that first whiff of bacon that awaits you in the morning. With a few conceptual pieces tossed into the mix, you may find you'll get more than what you're looking for as well as more than what you realized you'd been deprived of for far too long. Be the first in your metropolitan area to hear Anton mimic one of the original British Wave's most endearing bands in "Tad Song," an uproarious response to a critic's lacerating diatribe. With tasty tracks extolling the virtues of female urination and rebuking the constraints of religious fundamentalism, Anton the songwriter takes no prisoners but will surely hold you captive from beginning to end. By the time he implores you to "Come Again," you'll find yourself too weak to resist.


AMPLIFIER Vol. 2, #1
by Bill Holmes

"Allyson 23" kicks off the record with a lurch--voice, guitar and drums all start together as if you dropped the needle in the middle of the record. And you might as well, because Anton's Wild Ride will take you on a roller-coaster through his head, turning and twisting at the most unexpected moments while you know that at any given moment, anything can happen. And it does!

Anton (or "AntBar", as he is affectionately known) will at times remind you of Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, The Loud Family and other less conventional artists because he, like them, has a vision that's anything but "cookie cutter" music. His voice can be a sad whimper (the beautiful "Untitled But Sad") or a tool of conviction ("I Want You Not Around") and everything in between. Musically he uses a crack band augmented by cello, flute, percussion and sometimes even sound effects to get his point across.

Subject Matter? Nothing is sacred. AntBar's world is a raw nerve of rejection, acceptance, happiness, fear, pain, love and thousands of other impulses that throb in his songs. That means that along with your moments of poetic imagery ("...your sand, oceanless and dry") you'll observe girls peeing or share fifty seconds with "Vomit Song". But Anton tempers this diverse no-holds-barred approach with wit and a lifetime's worth of musical influence; the result is rich and rewarding.

There are several strong tunes that simply demand to be heard. "MTV Song" (every musician's nightmare) and the hilarious "Tad Song" (which skewers a Sacramento music writer) are certainly upbeat and punchy enough, and the Crowded House Brit-funk of "Bible Beater" is a real treat. "A Proper Cup Of Tea", led by ringing guitar, would delight any Paul Kelly fan. Slower, haunting tunes like "Jelly" and especially the hypnotic "Come To Me (Made Of Metal)" are pure delight.

With nineteen songs, expect to go off the tracks a few times. Anton sometimes bridges the gap with tape loops or answering machine messages as short "songs". I would have been much happier without "Complicated Umbrella Piece" or "Long John", thank you, and could have easily put together a ten or eleven song record without losing a beat. But it's his muse, and a small price to pay to be able to hear the gems within.

I want to hear more from Anton, even if I have to weed through the idiosyncrasies to get to the true keepers. So what if the batting average isn't 1.000--the extra base hits are worth the trade off. This is true adventure pop. Invest the time in AntBar's wonderful world and be rewarded.


AUDITIES Oct/Nov 1996
by Janet Ingraham

Not Unlike: Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello, XTC, even those dadburn Beatles. And Bob Dylan. Really.

Comments: In a just world, anyone reading this would already be an Anton fan.

Sacramento songster Barbeau, recently relocated to the bigger scene of San Francisco, has concocted quite an array of pop cocktails (but beware--they're laced!) over the past decade, including two marvelous more-than full-length CDs, The Horse's Tongue (with the JoyBoys, 1993) and Waterbugs & Beetles. Still a youngster, but shoulder-deep in pop know-how and with an overactive brain on top, Barbeau can do lyrics more wry, twisted, and scary/funny than They Might Be Giants at their wacky brightest, and music that demonstrates he's listened to a lot of great pop records--all types--a lot of times, and still finds time to distill it all through his unique genius. And he has a neat, nasally, contrarily pleasing croon, a little raspy, occasionally howly, occasionally soulful, and fun to hear.

Waterbugs & Beetles, the home of 19 cuts from such a fertile mind, does have its share of oddities, minute-long novelties featuring cello or answering machine--but nothing you don't want to listen to (be aware, however, that some lyrics may be difficult for some folks: Anton puts a pretty in-your-face spin on his responses to childhood traumas and religious fundamentalism, he exposes some personal nerve endings, and he can be dang raunchy). Some tracks are extremely listenable: the captivating pop-perfect "Allyson 23", and "Tad Song", a rocking in-joke that you don't need to get; you'll be content enjoying its creative use of "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" anyway. Oh, all right: it's written for Tad Toomay of the Sacramento News & Review who once wrote a scathing-ish review of Anton and the JoyBoys, asserting that Barbeau doesn't do anything on stage that Herman's Hermits hadn't already accomplished--this gave Anton, apparently, his only bad copy ever, and enough incentive to create an over-the-top hilarious and rave-up tune. Musicians take note of the clever use of bad press!

Also enjoy the weird but hum-worthy "A Proper Cup of Tea" ("I'd cross the causeway in a Subaru if I could find someone to guide me"; the dark, biting, "Bed of Pain"; the plaintive "Waterbugs and Beetles", which manages to be a beautiful song in spite of the kooky way it's first verse will stop you in your tracks; and the jovially caustic "MTV Song" about an impostor who steals the singer's idea and hits the BIG big time, while our singer languishes in obscurity. Which he does, and I don't get it. Barbeau's sensibilities, accomplishment, and wit demand comparison to Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, and Elvis Costello. He is lyrically and musically unpredictable but almost consistently amazing. Why isn't he a star in our groovy pop world?


By Denise Sullivan

Since I'm a sucker for the self-sufficient singer/songwriter/musician, Barbeau's sharp, lyric-heavy electric pop is appealing. Not everyone likes the musical genius/control freak genre, but if you like Dramarama, Game Theory, Robyn Hitchcock, Chris von Sneidern, and Kristian Hoffman, with bits of the Plimsouls, Dylan, and the Beatles thrown in, chances are you will also like part-time Anglophile Barbeau. He even interacts with a number of other musicians on his record: a cellist, a violinist, bassist, drummer, guitarists, and vocalists, including Scott Miller of the Loud Family.


By Kevin Seconds

It's hard for me to fathom why Anton isn't already signed to a sweet, million dollar deal with some fat cat conglom, drivin' around in a Lexus and doing spots on that MTV sports thingie with Dandy Dan Cortese. Ok, it's NOT that hard, but really, with Sacto currently being a fertile-as-fuck hotbed for record label pickin's, it's inevitable that AntBar will soon be "discovered". This is a good AND bad thing. GOOD cuz he works his butt off playing locally and putting out his own records on his own label and he deserved mega-success, fame, and yes, even his own folder on the AOL music forum. BAD cuz, once discovered, i/we may never again get to see him at intimate local venues as Cafe Paris and Bella Bru. That would suck but this new album doesn't (how's that for a segue?). Mixing up humorous yet often sensitive lyrics and folksy but "modern" rockin' tuneage, this disc has (sorry for the cliche) something for everybody and could easily take the place of the Matthew Sweets, Crackers and Cakes of the world and we'd all be better off cuz of it. Standouts on this fine record include: "MTV Song," "The Ballad of Sarah & Zoe," "Tad Song," and my new fave Anton song (besides "The Porcupine Song" of course), "Allyson 23" (no dorks, not just cuz of the title!). I mention these titles and hereby demand that KWOD plays them all religiously until painful memories of The Cranberries, Alanis Morrisette, and Bush go away. Buy this damn record!!!!


MAD ABOUT MUSIC, August 15, 1995

Poppy, odd, dark and bright, all at once, Sacramento's Anton Barbeau's just-released second album is exceedingly and readily accessible, despite the surprising and catchy quirks encompassed by his songs. Currents of XTC, the Beatles, and Robyn Hitchcock abound in his songs, woven together to create a vastly solid and complete collection of flirtatious gems. Barbeau has opened for Robyn Hitchcock, Jonathan Richman, and Weezer, and continues to gain popularity in Northern California.


MAGPIE WEEKLY, September 7, 1995

Someone like Mariah Carey makes one appreciate Anton Barbeau all that much more. Carey, the soda pop star turned Sony heiress, can't seem to make hit songs that don't sound like revised funk karaoke. Meanwhile, Barbeau keeps turning out all of these authentic little gems that prove, if nothing else, he hasn't had a chance to sleep with any of the right record company people. And if he has, or even daydreamed about it, he'd probably have written a song about it. There are many fine tunes among the 19 songs that make up this exceptionally well-produced work. Just a few of them are "Bed of Pain" (poked out my eyes on a sunny Monday), the grease poppin' "Beautiful Bacon Dream" and "Untitled (but sad)," with its mournful cello. For pure pop pleasure, though, it's tough to beat "Tad"; We coulda done our math together/We coulda taken baths together."


SNACKCAKE, Vol. 2 #3, 1997
by Tim Scanlin

Any jaded loser who thinks that true pop music has been usurped by Alternative Slop and Adult Contemporary Trash need look no further than Sacramento's Anton Barbeau. This guy has made a fucking cottage industry out of penning, short, witty pop morsels. "Allyson 23" is about as crisp as they come. "MTV Song" sounds like the work of Scott Miller at his best (and I do believe The Man Himself makes a cameo appearance on another song "I Want You Not Around"). "A Proper Cup of Tea" is magnificent and the next song, the title track, is beautiful acoustic melancholy a la Big Star's "Thirteen". This record contains 19 tracks. At this rate, I'll be here all night. This is a must for lovers of intelligent and heartfelt pop.


VALLEY MUSIC NEWS, July-August 1995

After mixing, mixing, and more mixing, Anton Barbeau has finally released a new CD on idiot Records. Waterbugs & Beetles has all the flavor, quirk, and nakedness of Anton's first disc, The Horse's Tongue; but the key word here is more. With 19 tracks, the album is a feast of winning pop song, hook-laden rockstuff, and exposed emotions.

Just as Barbeau brings you to the verge of tears, he'll sing something completely unpredictable that will either cause you to laugh or be repulsed. With themes ranging from sexed-up boy-meets-girl to MTV to S&M, it's not uncommon to find Anton singing about making love one moment and vomiting the next. Make no mistake though; the charm is there.

Anton is a brilliant songwriter, with all the irreverence he needs to make it bigtime. The only question is this; When the world comes knocking on Anton's door, will he be in the bath?


YELLOW PILLS, #8, 1997
by Jordan Oakes

A pop weirdo right out of the Robyn Hitchcock/Daniel Johnston asylum, Barbeau (no clue as to whether he's related to Adrian Barbeau of "Maude") spins tales that use extreme imagery to get across personal obsessions. The good part is that Barbeau has a keen (Keene?) sense of melody that usually pokes through his eccentricity (though sometimes the eccentricity collapses on the melody). So even if his voice, which sprinkles the shrillness of Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Bolan with Lennon sugar, is an acquired taste, the music testifies that Barbeau could be cult-hero material in a Syd Barret/Alex Chilton kind of way. Brilliant.