Prolific, pretentious, precocious, intelligent, quirky, nasal, amusing, annoying to some, pop genius to others, and never ever boring—this my friends is the cumulative description of northern-California’s musical auteur Anton Barbeau. His odd brand of melodic pop and clever wordplay might not be everyone’s proper cup of tea, but I for one decidedly consider myself an Ant-thusiast. Let me put it this way: who else writes great songs about tables or bananas? Anton fills a need you might never realize you had and does it well.
The prolific Anton B. (this is his fourth CD release since 1999) always provides an interesting and diverse listen and this disc is no exception. The Golden Boot (Antology Vol. 2) is more a rarities compilation than a best-of collection, yet still offers up an impressive range of samples from the Barbeau oeuvre, and is most certainly worth your eartime, for long-term fans and newbies alike. This unsung gem of a songwriter knows the pop idiom well, and seems to craft songs with catchy hooks and wry lyrics almost effortlessly, along with an ever-changing cast of female names peopling those songs.
This boot is filled with 23 tracks that cover an expanse from 20-second tape loop oddities to fully finished productions. “Third Eye” opens things with a love song from a man to his member, celebrating the joys of masturbation through indirect lyrical suggestion (“let’s twist again in our own sweet way”) and contributing a song to this narrow pop genre perhaps best exemplified by the wonderful XTC/Andy Partridge “Pink Thing”. This is an alternate more-polished version of an infectious song that first appeared on A Splendid Tray, praising “third eye, third eye, not ‘cause I like ya, just ‘cause I love ya, third eye, third eye, heaven is high but never above ya”.
“Xmas Song” is a great catchy number suitable for any ho-ho-holiday compilation and tells the tale of a typical family gathering (“mistletoe in every doorway, kissy-face from too much nog”), and the wonderment of awaiting Santa’s visit on Christmas Day. Barbeau really does a fine lyrical job of capturing the fun, complete with a legitimate concern to keep the chestnuts safely from the penguins and a perfect middle bridge: “We pause a moment every year to think of friends who can’t be here, we fill our cups with memories and drink until we’re sure to see them, hoping for return”.
“My Special Table” is an ode to an odd five-legged piece of furniture (“It’s built that way ‘cause that’s what God intended”), with adept lyrics objectifying its special ways (afraid of the flame, as a table should be) and qualities: “It holds my homework, holds my plate, it holds my head when it gets late / It keeps the walls from falling out the window”.
The lyrical wordplay is very much a key to Barbeau’s ingenuity. Often he’ll go off on a tangential riff, playing on sounds and meanings—just because he can. The song “Delores” shows this in ballad form, with obscure poetic phrasings accompanied only by acoustic guitar, as he declares “And I’ll take the low road if you take Delores home”, then follows this with a lengthy discourse on just what he means: “home as a metaphor, home as a dinosaur, home as the picture of Molly and me, home as in history, home as in family, home as a memory of how it could be”.
In “C’mon Girl” we get a tongue-in-cheek assessment of frustration, done up in an early Beatles’ Brit-pop style musical arrangement, including simple piano solo and handclap accompaniment. This is Anton as overgrown adolescent, making his oft-embarrassing lyrical pleas for love as naughty nookie: “C’mon girl, you know my love is hard / C’mon girl, let’s do it in the yard / You know I love the crazy way you love me, yes I do / I love to see you on your knees above me, so love me”.
“Octagon” is from an earlier Yellow Pills 4 power-pop compilation, and is another quirky yet catchy song that grows more appealing with repeated listens. This is a rough unfinished studio take of this haunting tune, and features a memorable guitar solo and reprise. “Helen Mirren” is Anton’s eclectic tribute to the wonderful British actress (again, with some unusual lyrical twists). “Sula2” is a simplified version of “Sula”, which originally appeared on Antology Vol. 1, talking about “Sula and the elevated frequency of change”. Another revamped version is here as “Banana2000”, reworking his earlier faux reggae “The Banana Song” in a mix that puts the cleverly inscrutable lyrics more up front: “I broke the company rules for you, and all I get is banana / I left my head in the hands of fools and all I get is banana / I spent 152 and all I get is banana / I fixed a fixture for my friend Sue and all I get is banana”.
“Breaky Doll” is presented in two versions here, and seems to inhabit the same gritty world of Elvis Costello’s “Shabby Doll” (though there are few similarities, aside from a general ambience). “Bed of Pain” and “Little Bleep Bleep” are two more well-crafted songs here, but perhaps my favorite track is “The Horny Old Ballad of Tracy Shellac”. Here is a song that offers the best of the Sacramento songsmith all in one place: adolescent longing, pungently witty lyrics, and penguins.
Here are lyrics you’ll not likely find elsewhere: “Tracy, we got to get it on, it’s the end of time I know it, pretty soon we’ll all be gone. Tracy, there’s a penguin on the lawn, it’s an omen from the Arctic, pray we make it to the dawn. When the sun comes up right then we might well be cheerful, though the punch bowl is empty then the fridge is quite fearful. We’ll get drunk on our feet so we’ll dance the fandago, maybe mange petite, maybe munch on a mango. In the classical Spaniard of style, my technique will bring dozens of smiles. Tracy, we got to get it on, from the obelisk, a humming sound, instructions from beyond commanding Tracy, unplug the phone and curtains drawn, maybe light a little candle, spin a little Bevis Frond. By the light of a flash bulb we can swim in your bathtub, like a mer-boy in heat I could give you a backrub, you could nickname me Doodles, I could dub you Patchouli, I could ask why your sister still calls you Lil’ Julie . . . in the most Leonard Cohen-esque way, I will plead with you hey lady hey”.
The musical arrangements vary in complexity, from low-tech home recordings to more fully-fledged studio work (often featuring guest artists on harmonies and some great work by Don Hawkins on guitars, Erik Kleven on bass and Creed Maggiora on drums). However, you’re assured of wonderfully melodic tunefulness, with pop hooks galore in all the right places.
The liner notes here are written by Bevis Frond frontman Nick Saloman, telling how wowed he was by opening act Anton B. in 1999. So why isn’t Anton Barbeau a household name? He writes songs that deserve wider recognition. Sometimes it’s an unfair universe. Some might not be able to get past the nasal voice or the intelligent and often head-scratching quirkiness of the lyrics or the wonderful adolescent lechery masquerading as love.
In the big musical world, admittedly Anton’s stuff might not be for everyone. He’s far too smart for the masses—but that’s okay too. As obscure gems go, he’s one of the best. Much like his mentor and sometime producer Scott Miller (Loud Family, Game Theory), Barbeau is the toast of musicians in the know, writing incredibly wonderful pop songs, yet he continues to bask in relative obscurity with the general public at large.
This collection of playful ephemera is further evidence of Barbeau’s many talents: lyrics that disarm you with their intelligence and wit, music that has you humming along effortlessly. The Golden Boot (Antology Vol. 2) is a must for Barbeau fans, but perhaps a better starting point for newcomers might be his latest 17th Century Fuzzbox Blues or 1999’s A Splendid Tray. Someday the world might wake up to this man’s many talents, but until that time, buy his CDs and lead your own parade out of Sacramento to help spread the good musical word.
// Notes from the Road
"On release day for their latest Big Mess, Grouplove packed Baby's in Brooklyn for a sweaty show.READ the article