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I’m From Barcelona - Always Spring

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Artist: I’m From Barcelona

Album: Always Spring

Label: Mute

Review date: Apr. 27, 2011

There are certainly positive things to say about I’m From Barcelona’s third album Forever Today. First off, they’re Swedish, and excepting the recent politically-motivated charges leveled against righteous whistleblower and personal creep Julian Assange, they come from a pretty great country. Second, they enjoy making fun, uncomplicated songs — party songs — music that aren’t necessarily unique, but that raise one’s spirits. In a world revealed by Wikileaks to be more awful than we had previously thought, entertaining and straightforward music can help pull us out of the garbage pit of despair.

Every time I run into one of these bands though, I can’t help but feel divided. Personally, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for pop music that doesn’t deliver interesting vocals, instrumental hooks or some sort of unique structure. With so much music out there, it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of time for bands that are merely fun, that don’t offer either emotional or intellectual value. I put on Forever Today and feel unmoved by its inert spirit. Sure, it’s pleasant pop, but the inspiration behind it is inanimate. It simply doesn’t differentiate itself in any real way from every other indie-pop band. It’s not awful; it’s just generic, like an episode from the sixth season of Scrubs.

On the other hand though, some people — lots of people perhaps — just want music like this. Forever Today isn’t offensive. There’s nothing morally objectionable about the album. Plus, beyond trying to justify the broad appeal of their music, there’s also the fact that maybe I’m From Barcelona isn’t interested in doing more than that. Maybe they’re not aiming at high art. So, from both sides of the artist/audience divide, there’s agreement about what everyone’s looking for.

And Forever Today is cordial enough. Happy pop songs in major keys, some featuring orchestral instruments, others with crowds that sing back-up. There are 27 people in the group, too, the band’s ubiquitous marketing point. It’s striking, though, that for such large numbers, Forever Today feels particularly thin, neither full like Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop nor dynamic like an orchestra.

I guess what really gets me about the album isn’t so much that it’s just fun; it’s that in its fun-ness, it never aims to be anything more than disposable, and it’s that lack of vision that sours the entire experience for me. Lyrics like “Don’t let ‘em get to you” (“Can See Miles”) and “You got to take it easy” (“Come On”) are uninspiring at best and ignorable at worst. I feel bad calling them out on this because I can definitely see people getting excited about Forever Today and its gleeful quality, but it’s clear that I’m From Barcelona aimed for the ephemeral rather than at least trying for something more.

And it’s not that I don’t like things that are enjoyable — I’m not some dour Nietzschean dude scowling at the world — but I just don’t think that listeners need to settle for mere enjoyment devoid of either intellectual, emotional or artistic worth. Sure, Forever Today may be immediately uplifting simply because its pop music, but maybe we should be asking more of “fun” bands. Maybe just saying an album is enjoyable isn’t enough. We should be demanding meaningful music and an emotionally resonant spirit, inventive structures and innovative lyrics: a creative sense of fun.

In the end, mere enjoyment is empty. Truly compelling art is the kind that grips you. I’m From Barcelona is fun, but ultimately shallow.

By Andrew Beckerman

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