Referring to its visual effect BARBARISMS joke, “We thought this video should put us in the most negative light possible”. This attitude reflects the bands willingness to wear the masks they mock, to lean in and out of postures with lyrics that voice a devastating innocence. Such flourishes are full of misdirection and invite misinterpretation, like a tour guide who delights in getting lost.
BARBARISMS bite with sharp teeth into the slacker-brilliance of acts like The Clean, and Pavement. Having cut his teeth on American culture and recklessly digested life in Paris and Stockholm, songwriter Nicholas Faraone has inherited the kind of grinning protest of E.E Cummings, who sang ‘of Olaf glad and big…who (upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat: there is some shit I will not eat.’ Perhaps it is for this reason that BARBARISMS seems to hunger on the edge of the ineffable.
It is a search that takes you, “like a drink takes its cube of ice.”
These words, from the charismatic and off-kilter Barbarisms’ song ‘Explorer’, describe well the process of their self-titled debut, which continually refreshes itself with the calm mania of its creation. These 11 songs search the pain of life’s nonsense to recover a
world that is at once more strange and more fun. There is a tradition of American writers who have wanted to become their own Columbus, to sing their own America. It is a tradition for which Barbarisms’ songwriter, Nicholas Faraone expresses his keen ambivalence,
“I have yet to have wanted to be a poet in the way I have wanted fifty dollars or to leave America.”
Before leaving the United States for Paris and finally landing in Stockholm, Faraone was deeply affected by the work of songwriters like David Berman (The Silver Jews), Dan Bejar (Destroyer) and Bill Callahan (Smog). This lyrically driven influence continued to develop during his association with the literary lo-folk scene in Paris, which drew him closer to the nerve of songwriters like Jeffery Lewis and David Dondero. But it was not until Faraone met Tom Skantze and Robin Af Ekenstam in Stockholm that his words began to live in the lush melodies of a starker climate.
These playful melodies, recalling Built to Spill and Björn Olsson, ceaselessly mess with expectation. From a house out of an Ingmar Bergman film, with a view that looks away from America, Faraone decides to write about electric cigarettes, the cover band of a child star, and a drinking contest between himself and a sick friend. Such writing undermines and underpins the inescapability of its culture. Even when a Barbarisms song pictures America like a vast highway snaking through a shopping mall, it remains full of the nostalgic compulsion of a road trip song, pushing headlong into a future it longs to miss.
During the composition of this record, the band’s own future became far less certain. But only three months after a tight brush with cancer and the amputation of his right elbow and forearm, Ekenstam rejoined Skantze and Faraone with determination. Together, they constructed a drum-playing prosthetic with tape and kitchen tools. This rough-and-ready transcendence beats through each Barbarisms song, some of which were recorded with a drumstick stuck to a spatula.
“Recesses unlimited have made me their salesman”, sings Faraone, “and I am inviting you over just to show you that business is good.” Such lines leap from this record in flashes of fear and elation. The result is a living record that invites and challenges its invited.