Brighton duo Barbara (brothers Henry and John Tydeman) share many of the qualities of the Roman god Janus, famed for his appearance over the the doorways of ancient Roman homes. Firstly, they have two heads. Secondly, they simultaneously face in two directions. Musically they look to the past for inspiration. They have a lush, mid-Atlantic power-pop sound reminiscent of the music favoured by U.S. FM radio stations. Thematically, Barbara are firmly staring into the future. Their debut single – BRB – tackled the subject of recreating the essence of a dead person using only their digital fingerprint. With their new release – These New Communications – Barbara take on the evils that social media has unleashed on the world. It’s like Barbara are the creative offspring of a dangerous liaison between Supertramp and Muse.
The subject of These New Communications is the missed opportunity that social media has presented us with. Something that could have been a tool for good has turned out to be anything but. ‘Social media makes people angrier,’ explains Henry, ‘also it’s turned out to be a great space for conspiracy theorists with all their crazy, ridiculous ideas…that can have dangerous, real world consequences’. ‘It’s a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster’ elaborates John, ‘Now that we’ve built this thing it turns out it’s out of control’.
One criticism often levelled at reviewers is their lack of imagination and their over-reliance on hackneyed phrases like ‘post-punk’ to pigeon-hole bands. Thankfully, Barbara deny me the opportunity to fall into this trap. Their sound harks back to a time before 1976’s year zero. They are positively pre-punk. These New Communications is a sumptuous kaleidoscope of seventies instrumentation. It’s a joyous mélange of electric piano, electronic chimes, disco beats, extravagant strings, vocals delivered as if through one of those conical megaphones, and even that Peter Frampton Talk Box sound. It literally has all the bells and whistles and so much more.
The song starts sedately enough with the gentle chords of a church organ, quickly joined by shimmering chimes, before the airy vocals kick-in – ‘Soothsayers lied, they said we’d find these new communications something fine, but it turns out we fight most often every night’. At this point a disco-beated classic breaks-out complete with added hand-claps.
From here on in, so much happens that I’m going to have to lapse into a Joycean ‘stream of consciousness’ just to give you a flavour the song; luxuriant harmonies, Elton John piano, Steely Dan – Dirty Work vocals, 10cc tempo changes, Supertramp instrumentation, Steve Nieve trills.
These New Communications is out now on Raygun Records and available from your usual streaming outlets. It is a sumptuous slice of joy. It has more layers and is more vibrant than a Bake Off ‘show-stopper’. Treat yourself. Go get a fork and tuck in.