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BARR - Summary

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Artist: BARR

Album: Summary

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Apr. 2, 2007

There’s something undeniably of its time about BARR’s music. Brendan Fowler’s spoken word - exposed like an audio diary or letters written to loved ones, redolent of the very public full disclosure engendered by Myspace, Livejournal, Youtube, and the like - falls somewhere between emotional exhibitionism and a therapeutic vocal working-through of life and its details. Like anytime someone seems intent on spilling their proverbial (and personal) beans, BARR’s efforts are likely anathema to many, though there’s an endearing quality to his work, whether it be of the confessional sort or the meta-musical dialogue that peppers some of the tracks.

At times, Fowler's casual delivery echoes that of Steven Malkmus’ languidly spoken work, and given the obscure reference to a conduit (currently for sale) on “The Song is the Single,” perhaps that’s not unintentional. Unlike Malkmus, his style is unaffected, and while he occasionally veers towards actual singing or something more emotionally pregnant, the most appealing facet of BARR’s delivery is that it feels largely unforced. Whatever one feels towards the vocals (outside of “Context Ender,” that is), it’d be difficult to accuse Fowler of much in the way of histrionics or play-acting.

Given the subject matter of some of the tracks, that’s an accomplishment. There’s a voyeuristic element to listening to Summary, as though the listener is hearing too much, whether it be Fowler’s address to a friend with an apparent drug problem, or the explanation of a botched tour. Thankfully, it isn’t all hushed-voice confession, though, and Fowler occasionally injects his lyrics with some levity and clever wordsmithing amidst the more forthright material. Were it done unaccompanied, Fowler’s spoken word would be less effectual; one can feel the instrumental accompaniment of “First” and “Was I? Are You?” tugging the words along. Fowler’s instrumentation, especially on piano, can be like the honey to his lyrics’ medicine, an aid in ingestion, especially to those whose initial response toward such open public outpouring tend to skew towards skepticism or unease.

In the end, it’s the effortless candidness of Fowler’s work that is its true hallmark, and, despite any ornamentation, this is the aspect of his output - Summary included - that serves as both his most alluring and off-putting trait. As with much of the work of this nature, be it musical, written, or visual, one wonders about the reality of the situations that Fowler addresses, whether they’re plucked from his own life or fabricated, or at least exaggerated, for the purpose of bettering his music. I’d tend to believe the former, but it’s interesting to think that there's a sense of disappointment in either option.

By Adam Strohm

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