In the Village of the Apple Sun
THE LOUD FAMILY AND ANTON BARBEAU
What If It Works?
One of the advantages of not being signed to a major (or even a major indie) label is the freedom to make the kind of music you want when you want. Sacramento’s Anton Barbeau is having a particularly prolific year, as he has three new records out within a couple of months of each other. In the Village of the Apple Sun is, he claims, an attempt to make an overtly psychedelic album, with guests including acid folk luminaires Sharron Kraus and Christian Kiefer, the Lucky Bishops’ Alan Strawbridge and the Loud Family’s Scott Miller (of whom more later). Considering that everything Barbeau has ever done is overloaded with eccentric lyrics, odd noises and gloriously catchy pop melodies, that seems like an extremely fine distinction. Tracks like “Seeds of Space,” “On a Bicycle Built For Bicycle 9” and the title ditty do seem particularly inspired by 60s psych/pop melodies, but even so, they’re not much different than other bizarre pop gems like “Mushroom Box, 1975,” “My Hair is Oily” and “The Bane of Your Existence is My Name.” Upon closer listening, In the Village of the Apple Sun boasts more of a unity of purpose than a lot of Barbeau’s projects, but it’s still ultimately “just” another strong collection of strange pop songs from one of the underground’s most fertile minds.
The same could be said for Drug Free!, which was recorded with much the same cast as Village (including Kraus and Strawbridge), and has much the same feel. (Hell, “In a Boat On the Sea” is even more blatantly psychedelic than the Villagers.) Perhaps slightly less trippy than Village for the most part, Drug Free! emphasizes the songs’ hooks and melodies over atmosphere. Thus seemingly joking cuts like “Magic Metal Apron” and “Boncentration Bamps” (title and chorus borrowed from a Monty Python sketch) are married to great melodies that will keep you singing to yourself for hours trying to figure out what he means. (A common occurrence in Barbeau’s universe, actually.) Like other celebrated eccentro-pop tunesmiths, however, Barbeau is hiding emotional kicks behind the wordplay—listen carefully to “Oh the Malaise,” “She Wears a Green Leaf” and the title song and you’ll find more than just eyebrow-cocking cleverness. Indeed, “Just Passing By” and the absolutely lovely “Leave It With Me, I’m Always Gentle” are the most straightforward songs he’s yet done. (Maybe.) Everything here is awash in catchy melodies, with will be enough for any pop-smart consumer’s eardrums. Drug Free! is slightly less quirky than In the Village of the Apple Sun, but no less excellent.
One of Barbeau’s few likeminded peers is Scott Miller, majordomo of the brilliant Loud Family (and former leader of 80s favorites Game Theory). So it was only natural for the California pair to strike up a friendship, which led to a collaboration, which led to a resurrection of the Loud Family with Barbeau as co-conspirator on What If It Works? Again, hooks predominate over tongue-twisters, and the lyrical carpet-bombing doesn’t disguise smart points and crumbling emotions. “Total Mass Destruction” (a criticism of music marketing), “Don’t Bother Me While I’m Living Forever” and the obvious “(Kind of) In Love”—all sung by Miller—are the most obvious examples, but Barbeau’s whimsical “Pop Song 99” and “I’ve Been Craving Lately” hide some real anxiety under the smiling hooks. Elsewhere, “Mavis of Maybelline Towers” is a gem of a psych pop song and a new Loud Family classic, while the Antman’s title cut hits every pop pleasure button possible. The duo also covers the Zombies’ “Remember You” and Cat Stevens’ “I Think I See the Light,” both as duets, and seriously indulges a pop geek jones by not only covering the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off,” but following it with the deconstruction “Song About ‘Rocks Off’.” What If It Works? is one of the coolest projects in the careers of both Miller and Barbeau, and caps off a string of brilliant albums from the Antman that he’ll have a difficult time matching in the future. But it’ll be more fun than freebasing chocolate fudge to listen to him try. Michael Toland