Heartbreak is packaged in acoustic endeavors so inoffensive on Notes to an Absent Lover that it’s hard to believe this is even a Barzin record. To power an ample exploration of post-break-up misery on his third album, the Canadian songwriter stripped away all of the warm, hypnotic textures that swathed 2006’s intoxicating My Life in Rooms. The gradual developments and welcome subtlety are long gone, and Notes to an Absent Lover is straightforward and dry folk pop, with little decoding needed.
Barzin and a troupe of players convey sorrow and regret in great detail on Notes to an Absent Lover, with verses that are about as cheery as an empty laundromat. Everything is in disarray in his world; there are “broken guitars”, “houses that make no noise”, and lovers that become strangers. The loose references to Bob Dylan come to an end in song titles “Queen Jane” and “Words Tangled in Blue”, and the new full-length won’t be confused with Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire, as you might have previously done when discussing Barzin’s work. Instead, the closest relative to Notes is dealt daily in chain coffee shops via satellite radio. “When It Falls Apart” harbors no surprises, and is little more than a good-enough contemporary singer/songwriter effort. It chronicles lost love and despair with no abstractions to be found, and admirers of Damien Rice will likely devour its TV-ready arrangement, confusing its very tangible acoustic guitar-driven melody, easily digested lyrics, and melancholy pedal steel nuances with a somewhat more lively O outtake. Good news for Rice, but for the Barzin enthusiast, it feels like a break-up.