Matthew Barber: Means & Ends

[18 September 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

Matthew Barber is releasing his second debut album and both are getting rave reviews. Let me explain. Last year Barber released this album independently and the initial pressing of his album sold out, which ended up being a double-edged sword. Sure, people loved the album, but where could they get it? After Barber relocated back to Toronto last summer, the wheels were sent in proverbial motion for this album to be released through Paper Bag Records, a burgeoning label that continues to impress. But it’ll only be as good as its albums.

“Some people think it’s old fashioned to write songs on guitars / And ride around on bicycles instead of fast cars / But I think it’s okay”, Barber sings on the opening “Timeless”. And from the first thirty seconds, you can’t help but crack a smile. He is onto something quite good as he sings harmonies with Jill Barber. The song resembles fellow Canadian songwriters like Danny Michel and Andy Stochansky in terms of ability and sheer talent. It’s not exactly quirky, but the Tom Waits-meets-Wilco arrangement makes it glisten from top to bottom. A bit of Tom Petty can also be discerned. “Put Me Back Together (So Delicately)” is more of a vaudeville Waits-ish tune that flows from the brushing on the drums to the creaky chord changes on the acoustic guitar. Although it gets a tad glossy with its tight pop chorus, Barber is able to snip the fat from the tune while adding horns during the bridge.

“Sentimental Acumen” might be too high-brow as far as titles go, but the straightforward pop rock sensibility oozes from the opening riff. “Make sure the home team wins and then they know the score”, he sings as the Odds-like harmonies make it soar. A meaty guitar riff comes in two minutes in, propelling the song as if it needed a kick in the pants. But it didn’t, making it all the better. “The Beautiful Things That We Waste” is a downtrodden country tune that has a waltz-like nature to it with piano and guitars. “I just keep coming back”, Barber sings as the song rarely falters. You can almost picture him drowning his sorrows as the waitresses mop the floors. “Morning Train” is the first tune that brings the Beatles to mind, whether it’s the organ or just simple yet infectious arrangements.

“Sleep in Peace” has Barber counting the song off, but the acoustic singer-songwriter tune doesn’t pass the test. Barber resembles the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris on this track as the harmony sound is overdubbed. It’s the album’s first “downer” track and seems like a good change of pace despite being an average song. Barber also shows off his “false"tto on this tune while strings are added. Thankfully for Barber and the listener, he picks up where he left off on the fourth track, a slow dance called “The Business of Being Apart”. Talking about long distance and overseas relationship, the guitar gets to shine here, making it sparkle as Barber adds his vocals.

The poppy ‘60s rear their toe-tapping head on “Anywhere Else But Here”. The constant drums and tight rhythms are what make this song come off as well as it does. The chorus is also mistake-free as a slight Petty-like jangle is introduced. The handclaps also lend a certain party atmosphere, as do the great sing-a-long lyrics. “Every Mistake” could be mistaken for a Ryan Adams track, a self-reflection bit that doesn’t wallow in self-pity. Although it goes off on a tangent as it evolves, the repetitive anthem-like nature gives it a swaying quality. This album was re-released for a very good reason—it showcases a songwriter who is wiser for taking his craft and perfecting it as best he can.

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