Is it really possible to be a cult superstar?
When I say “under the radar” about Anton Barbeau, I don’t mean to slight him by insinuating that he’s unknown. The Sacramento based artist has enjoyed a long career splitting his time between the US and Europe, much to the delight of a loyal and growing audience of fans. But mainstream he’s not, so I implore you to dip your toe in the River Barbeau and check him out.
(He’s amazing, and he would never resort to a cheesy rhyme like that.)
What first knocked me out was his second album, Waterbugs and Beetles. It’s an odd phrase for an album name until you compare it to song titles like “Beautiful Bacon Dream” and “Slimy Cello Piece”. But behind that strange choice of words is a master song craftsman who is creative, versatile and anything but ordinary. Anton continues to record and release new albums, and I continue to enjoy them – but this one holds a special place for me.
Here’s my original review of Waterbugs and Beetles for Amplifier Magazine. (Note – this was a review of the original 1995 album; it was re-released in 2006 on Pink Hedgehog).
“Allyson 23” kicks off the record with a lurch–voice, guitar and drums all start together as if you dropped the needle in the middle of the record. And you might as well, because Anton’s Wild Ride will take you on a roller-coaster through his head, turning and twisting at the most unexpected moments while you know that at any given moment, anything can happen. And it does!
Anton (or “AntBar”, as he is affectionately known) will at times remind you of Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, The Loud Family and other less conventional artists because he, like them, has a vision that’s anything but “cookie cutter” music. His voice can be a sad whimper (the beautiful “Untitled But Sad”) or a tool of conviction (“I Want You Not Around”) and everything in between. Musically he uses a crack band augmented by cello, flute, percussion and sometimes even sound effects to get his point across.
Subject Matter? Nothing is sacred. AntBar’s world is a raw nerve of rejection, acceptance, happiness, fear, pain, love and thousands of other impulses that throb in his songs. That means that along with your moments of poetic imagery (“…your sand, oceanless and dry”) you’ll observe girls peeing or share fifty seconds with “Vomit Song”. But Anton tempers this diverse no-holds-barred approach with wit and a lifetime’s worth of musical influence; the result is rich and rewarding.
There are several strong tunes that simply demand to be heard. “MTV Song” (every musician’s nightmare) and the hilarious “Tad Song” (which skewers a Sacramento music writer) are certainly upbeat and punchy enough, and the Crowded House Aussie-Brit-funk of “Bible Beater” is a real treat. “A Proper Cup Of Tea”, led by ringing guitar, would delight any Paul Kelly fan. Slower, haunting tunes like “Jelly” and especially the hypnotic “Come To Me (Made Of Metal)” are pure delight.
With nineteen songs, expect to go off the tracks a few times. Anton sometimes bridges the gap with tape loops or answering machine messages as short “songs”. I would have been much happier without “Complicated Umbrella Piece” or “Long John”, thank you, and could have easily put together a ten or eleven song record without losing a beat. But it’s his muse, and a small price to pay to be able to hear the gems within.
I want to hear more from Anton, even if I have to weed through the idiosyncrasies to get to the true keepers. So what if the batting average isn’t 1.000–the extra base hits are worth the trade off. This is true adventure pop. Invest the time in AntBar’s wonderful world and be rewarded.
Order albums from Anton’s website
“The MTV Song” live in 2004