A cursory play or two of Browser, Barbarisms‘ second LP, would lead the casual listener too think that they had stumbled across some previously unknown alt-country or slacker-rock band with their roots in the 1990s. Something decidedly American. And indeed, there is a definite whiff of open-road, back-porch Americana hanging around this album. Barbarisms frontman Nicholas Faraone does, after all, hail from the USA. But listen closer. You might notice it in the production, which nods towards shoegaze, or you might hear it in the lyrical nods to Scandinavia: there is something strangely European about this record.
Barbarisms are based in Stockholm, where Faraone is joined by guitarist Tom Skantze and drummer Robin Af Ekenstam, and their cosmopolitan make-up and globetrotting tendencies bring something new to the world of twangy guitars and bar-room philosophising. With first track Heaviest Breather there is a jangle of tambourine, a shimmer of guitar, a smart turn of phrase and a surprising melodic change of direction half way through, the song switching from the drift of lo-fi country pop to something more in common with the Lindsey Buckingham guitar stylings or Van Occupanther-era Midlake.
Lost Positions is slacker than slack, in the best of possible ways. A Brazil-to-Norway ramble over painful old wounds that sounds like the Silver Jews fronted by the mutant offspring of Ian Felice and St Thomas. A crucial lyrical reference to the Royal Trux (something the Silver Jews also did) helps position the song’s loose-living aesthetic, but despite all the apparent laxity the melody once again attains a certain hummable economy, the hallmark of a natural songwriter.
The simplicity of I Have Not Seen You In Days – hand drums and tambourine, and an uncomplicated chorus – comes across like a countryfied version of the Wave Pictures, while Prison Rules leans more towards the Jayhawks model of country-rock. And while this is ostensibly a country album, the production occasionally points to an affinity with dream pop. The chop and change of acoustic guitar chords played off against the echoic electric guitar on Older Than Birds is a prime example of this, and on Rico of the White Nights Faraone’s voice is the perfect balance between gritty and melodic.
Often Faraone’s lyrics emerge from the clatter with clarity and inherent sadness that the best American songwriters. Ice Storm #2 is a good example of this – an object lesson in scene-setting and storytelling, relentless in detail and emotive content. Attention to detail is not something often lauded in albums that seem to strive towards a ‘slacker’ aesthetic, but Barbarisms refuse to roost in that or any other pigeonhole. Note the odd but effective studio twiddles that augment I Would Not Ask or the wonderfully quotable couplets of solipsistic closer Tastemaker, where mild self-disgust has never sounded so attractive. On Browser Faraone and his Nordic sidekicks come at a venerable genre from an entirely different angle, and give it a welcome shake-up, while never sacrificing deft songcraft and dextrous lyricism.
Browser is released June 10th via Control Freak Kittens