wears the trousers magazine


laura barrett: victory garden (2009)
April 15, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,

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Laura Barrett
Victory Garden •••½
Paper Bag
 

“Neurotic sci-fi folk, for neurotic sci-folk” sure beats “melodramatic popular song” as the ultimate Myspace description of an artist’s work. And for once it might be accurate; there is something decidedly anxious sounding about Laura Barrett’s debut album Victory Garden, the much anticipated follow-up to last year’s re-release of the dazzling Earth Sciences EP. Sometime member of Toronto big band The Hidden Cameras, Barrett has for the past two years devoted herself to songwriting using the kalimba, an African instrument consisting of a sound box strung with metal keys that produces a satisfyingly tinny plinkety-plonk sound. Having chanced upon the instrument through a misspelled eBay search, thereby freeing herself from some of the conventions of her Western classical training, Victory Garden is the serendipitous product of a satisfyingly creative journey. 

Schooled in linguistics, Barrett has a pleasingly intelligent dedication to structure and a seemingly instinctive understanding of how words and music interplay and influence one another in the creation of distinct sonic landscapes. Her seamless ability to use clever and convoluted language without decimating her accessibility puts her in the league of Newsom and Apple, only Barrett has an even sharper sense of humour. ‘Ferryland’, for instance, lulls you into a drowsy lullaby that bemoans the inadequacy of words to describe the enormity of love between two sentient beings with impressively scanning lines like “What’s the use of coming up with nouvelles manières / to describe the reverie of your toque and tousled hair?”, while ‘Consumption’ muses on the variety of stimulants required to get the average 21st century urbanite through their working day, the kalimba and marimba driving ever forwards like a well-watched clock.

Musically it’s impressively varied, too. The Narnia-referencing ‘Wood Between Worlds’ touches on loss and separation as a wave-like melody washes backwards and forwards, painting aquatic mental pictures that never really allow you to get settled, while ‘Spoiler Alert’ charms and soothes with an unexpected prettiness, a trombone-prompted gear shift sweeping you across the floor when you least expect it. Elsewhere, the idiosyncratic lyrical content continues in ‘The Sharper Side’, which finds Barrett lamenting a loss of interest in keeping fit that will no doubt have many of us nodding in agreement, at the same time as we begin to get worried about what bad habits she might be leading us into. In ‘Escape To The Sun Dome’, Barrett recounts a sorry tale as marsupials lose their habitat to make way for the most inane demands of contemporary human consumption.

The Victory Garden occasionally trips up on its own cleverness. ‘Rien A Declarer’ throws in a few jazzy stylings along with a cod-French accent that jars and slightly annoys rather than suggesting a worldly sophistication, and as a result an interesting idea gets lost somewhere on a luggage carousel at Charles De-Gaulle Airport, while ‘To The Stars’ is a jaundiced piece of childlike musical theatre for a species that might have flown too far too fast and lost something of their raison d’être in the process. Clearly, Barrett’s unabashed intelligence, wordiness and genre-defying music built around an African percussive instrument is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a playfulness to The Victory Garden that beguiles as much as it might confuse the untutored. Intriguing is a description used all too often in album reviews, but in this case it’s as good as any.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 24/02/09; www.myspace.com/laurabarrett


‘Robot Ponies’ [from the Earth Sciences EP]


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[…] Purposes EP [Tiffany Daniels 17/6]  44 Ohbijou – Beacons [P. Viktor 16/6] 45 Laura Barrett – Victory Garden [Martyn Clayton 15/4] 46 Bitter:Sweet – Drama [Anna Claxton 1/4] 47 Speck Mountain – Some Sweet […]

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