[11 December 2008]
Brad Barr is best known for being the lead singer and guitarist of The Slip, a band I discovered in the same way that many people did—through the first Guitar Hero, which featured their absurdly likeable “Even Rats” as a bonus song. That track was from their album Eisenhower, which was a collection of pleasant, thoroughly modern indie-pop songs. It was also unrepresentative of the band’s other work: for the first eight years of their existence, The Slip had been a mostly-instrumental, jazz-tinged jam band.
The Fall Apartment, then, is somewhat of a return to form for Barr: these eleven instrumental acoustic guitar compositions allow him to showcase his chops in a way that Eisenhower simply did not. But what’s impressive about the album is the degree to which Barr sheds his jam band roots. By and large, these feel like songs, rather than just extended bits of guitar noodling. Barr also avoids the common instrumental-album trapping of having an overabundance of covers—there are only three here, including a moody take on Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” and an excellent version of “Maria La O”, originally by the Cuban classical composer Ernesto Lecuona.
It’s on the original compositions, though, that Barr’s prowess really shines. Whether the mood is light and hopeful (“Sarah Through The Wall”, “Newst Flurries”) or tense and quiet (“Bouba’s Bounce”), what makes each song work is Barr’s complex picking. And while his instincts occasionally lead him astray, as on the aimless “War” and “Do I Have To Understand That?”, the album generally succeeds in admirable—and somewhat unexpected—ways.