Music

Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked Ladies Are Me

This disc won’t win over any converts, and probably won’t grab any teenage fans, but if you’ve loved them for this long, you definitely won’t be disappointed by this album.


Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies Are Me

Label: Reprise
US Release Date: 2006-09-12
UK Release Date: 2006-09-11
Amazon
iTunes

The success of Barenaked Ladies' breakthrough 1998 album, Stunt, stuck them with a tag that they've been working since to get rid of -- that of a joke band. The band name didn't help, and the song pastiches, geeky pop-culture references, and macaroni tossing at concerts have cemented the idea most people have of BNL as almost-comedy, a stigma that has prevented many folks from enjoying their last few still-witty-but-more-serious albums. Not that comedians and parodists like "Weird" Al don't do alright for themselves, but you've got to imagine that these Canucks are kicking themselves for the fact that so much of the music they'll be remembered for borders on novelty.

The fact of the matter is, Barenaked Ladies are great musicians, period. Their blend of pop/rock has become almost elegant as the years have gone by, with the punchline element reigned in for a more subtle (but still witty!) approach. Songwriters Steven Page and Ed Robertson have been able to cover topics ranging from life's monotony to alcohol abuse to inter-office relationships with style, sarcasm, and a bit more musical dexterity than they're normally given credit for. Add in the oil/water mix of Robertson's everyguy vocals and Page's near-operatic belting, and you have one of the more refreshing musical stews to break big over the past decade or so.

Barenaked Ladies Are Me might be BNL's debut as an indie act (well, sort of, as the album, while on the indie label Nettwerk, is still distributed by the folks at Warner who've been behind every Ladies CD to date), but it's also pretty much everything you'd expect from a BNL album, and there's a lot to be said for giving your listeners the same old-same old, as long as the same old is good. Any of the album's songs would sound great on a long drive. It's simple, melodic, slightly quirky pop-rock, easy to sing, easy to remember... and why should it surprise anyone that the (hooky, simple, melodic, upbeat) first single is called "Easy"?

Despite subtle changes in basic sound (and several changes in lead singer -- four of the band's five members take at least one shot at the mic), this whole album goes down easily. No band I can think of makes better pop-flavored rock, with the exception of Fountains of Wayne. Certainly, there aren't a lot of bands out there with better harmonies. The album's choruses and hooks are all quite reminiscent of the soothing harmonies of '70s bands like the Carpenters, America, and Bread.

This album continues to reveal Barenaked Ladies' secret weapon: Kevin Hearn. Since jumping onboard just prior to the band's American breakthrough, Hearn has not only battled and survived leukemia, but he's emerged as a nifty (if a bit odd) songwriter and a musical everyman. On this album, Hearn not only contributes a good deal of the songwriting (including the Page-led riff-pop showcase "Sound of Your Voice"), but he also takes a turn on damn near every instrument that's not nailed down. His boyish, hesitant vocals are the centerpiece of the dark ballad "Vanishing", as well. While BNL has been known as the Page/Robertson band for quite some time, Hearn (who makes very solid records with his own band, Thin Buckle) makes his case on Barenaked Ladies Are Me as an equal third.

Although no one song really sticks out on this album as a certified smash, there are plenty of enjoyable moments here. "Maybe You're Right" is the typical bravura Page vocal performance, which gets more odd once string and horn sections barge in and turn the song into something that sounds like Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach gone slightly demented. "Bank Job" contains an easygoing vocal from Robertson in the guise of a bank robber whose heist goes slightly awry when it turns out that the bank is populated by... well, hear the song and find out for yourself. You'll get a chuckle out of it. "Take It Back" has an ominous piano line that's somewhat reminiscent of the theme from The Exorcist, as well as bizarre lyrics like "We will never lose if we remove our shoes", but it's still a winning slice of sturdy jangle-rock.

There's a lot to be said for solid and dependable. We like it in our cars, our mattresses, our homes. Barenaked Ladies, over the course of their sixteen year career, have become just that. Barenaked Ladies Are Me won't win over any converts, and probably won't grab any teenage fans, but if you've loved them for this long, you definitely won't be disappointed by this album.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image