City of Women EP (Manimal Vinyl/Loose)
Certain implications come attached to a name like Barbarian. It seems to indicate something raw and brutal, and most likely a bit histrionic. My mind goes to some middle ground between the pummeling sludge of High on Fire or the operatic power metal of Manowar, though your mileage may vary.
San Diego's Barbarian sound nothing like Manowar or High on Fire, nor do they seem to draw much inspiration from the orgy scene in Conan the Barbarian (though if they ever get a big video budget, it's something to think about). Rather, on the band's new EP, City of Women, Barbarian deliver six tracks of dreamy, rhythmic indie rock, the likes of which fall a good distance from barbaric, veering much closer to the sublime.
The space that Barbarian inhabit on City of Women is an ethereal and fluid one, rife with ambient effects and shimmering guitars. Yet for a band whose sound is so atmosphere-heavy, Barbarian deliver hooks in plentiful supply. Lead-off track "California Nightmare" initially seems to levitate in a hushed, distorted miasma, but quickly erupts into a catchy indie-rock bounce, albeit one that maintains a dense, trippy atmosphere, complete with sitar-like guitar sounds.
"Night On Earth" maintains a similar motif, made more exotic with Latin rhythms and otherworldly backing vocals, lending an otherwise fun tune a touch of the sinister. As note-perfect as Barbarian are at crafting hazy, heady indie-psych, however, when they allow themselves the opportunity to rev up and let loose, the band can rock pretty damn hard. Case in point: "Red Tide," a Jesus and Mary Chain-style rocker that layers on the fuzz thick and kicks up the tempo halfway through.
Barbarian is at their best when tempering their hard-rocking impulses with a dreamy, late-night ethereality, as they do on the EP's gorgeous closer "Chromatose." If the question is "What is best in life?" then Barbarian's answer is moody, eerie indie-pop with hooks that never let go.