Anton Barbeau
Photo: Still from video

Anton Barbeau Plays the Sad Clown in “Stranger” (premiere)

It’s tempting to think the “Stranger” video’s two clowns are happier versions of Anton Barbeau, from whom he is currently estranged.

The sheer abundance of Anton Barbeau‘s recorded output implies a sunny and optimistic disposition. With each successive release, he expresses more positive-mindedness about his work and its chances of getting him a greater share of the public daylight he deserves and no doubt craves. Not even an artist as nestled and productive in his indie career as Barbeau can stay forever indifferent to the desire for a notoriety wider than his ardent but smallish fanbase.

So it isn’t surprising that his new single and video, “Stranger”, the title track to his umpty-umpth album—which PopMatters recently praised—forthrightly depicts Barbeau longing to be seen and heard yet feeling himself mostly out of step. It’s an uncharacteristically downcast song from Barbeau, based on moody chromatic chord changes and warpy synth sounds. The video shows him feeling that mood and quite literally “follow[ing] trails everywhere / that lead down dead and empty streets.”

Following him down those dead and empty streets in the video are a couple of clowns who try to cheer him up, but Barbeau seems not to notice them at all—not even with a third eye affixed to his forehead. It’s tempting to think that these two clowns are “the stranger[s] in my own head”: happier versions of himself from whom he is currently estranged. The song suggests that he might not feel so out of sorts or morose if he was plugged into the musical mainstream, but even if he was plugged in, would he feel comfortable there? “I wander through the radio / The magic eight-ball tells me no / The sound I hear is terrible / It’s noise, not music at all.”

Is that the club this maker of undeniable music, not noise, wants to belong to? That vexing question is surely a source of the tension that drives “Stranger”, which reaches into a well of disaffection and dissatisfaction Barbeau habitually avoids, by his own admission. In an interview with PopMatters last year, he shared his Enneagram personality type. He’s a very strong 7: “optimistic, versatile… playful, high-spirited, and practical, impatient, impulsive. They constantly seek new and exciting experiences but can become distracted and exhausted by staying on the go.”

That’s a fair diagnosis of what ails the constantly on-the-go Barbeau in “Stranger”, exemplified by the playful, high-spirited clowns in whose company he doesn’t quite find his distracted and exhausted self. It’s quite possible that the way out of the song’s mood is, paradoxically, by dwelling in it a little more deeply: singing his pessimism and alienation, as Barbeau frequently does throughout Stranger—which is why it’s one of his better albums. If he keeps wrestling with himself, and if he turns to look straight into the faces of the clowns on his shoulder, his music will almost surely run deeper and get even better.