Night Blooms (Manimal Vinyl)
Pop culture has long imbued the desert with a certain mysticism. It was the backdrop for Carlos Castaneda's psychedelic explorations, Buffy Summers' vision quest and Homer Simpson's Guatemalan-insanity-pepper hallucination. But the Southwestern desert has also played an important role in contemporary pop music, from Kyuss' generator parties in the early '90s, to the iconic cover photograph of U2's The Joshua Tree. And when it came time to record their first full-length album, post-punk / shoegaze band Barbarian headed out to Joshua Tree for an artistic vision quest of their own.
Whatever happened during the band's short stay at Rancho de la Luna studio, the outcome is an impressive step forward. Aesthetically, Night Blooms is a continuation of the dark, atmospheric feel of last year's City of Women EP. Yet, in the process, they've opened up their sound dramatically, allowing in a broader array of influences while homing in on a more cohesive vision.
Many of the songs on Night Blooms find Barbarian heading in an even more accessible and pop-friendly direction, be it through the grooves and saxophone riffs of "Pheromoans" or the disco beats and clavinet on "Phantom Vibrations." But just as the group appears to be taking a lighter, more hook-driven tack, along comes a track like the ominous "Into Thin," which adds heavier riffs, gothic drones and more sinister vocals by Andrew Mills. And there's a similarly intense sound bubbling up in "Sunday Service," a dizzying swirl of ear candy and krautrock beats that somehow ends up sounding a bit like Joy Division covering "Born to Run" in a haunted carnival. Which means it's awesome, of course.
With Night Blooms, Barbarian aren't afraid to get a little weird, but weirdness doesn't necessarily dominate. It's merely an accent that, applied properly, only highlights the strength of the melodies. Standing out even stronger, however, are the arrangements, which shake up these guitar-driven songs in surprising and interesting ways.
If nothing else, Barbarian's long, strange trip gave them access to an arsenal of studio tools, which made the difference between a good record and one that you can truly lose yourself in.