Tomorrow belongs to twee: Barnaby Bright, Wake the Hero

Go into your room and shut the door. Make sure no one else is around, and then have a seat. Put your headphones on…maybe even dim the lights a little. Now you are ready to listen to Barnaby Bright. When Nathan and Rebecca Bliss began work on their first full-length album, Wake the Hero, they hoped it would be the kind of record that would reach its listeners in a direct and honest way…that it would speak to the heart, not the head. The music of Barnaby Bright is meant for pondering, meant for stillness…meant for listening… There is a transcendent thread in their lyrics, melodies and progressions that has an intangible but visceral timelessness and truth. The world has called and Barnaby Bright has answered. Their unique brand of “lush, chamber indie-folk” is a warm and welcome wind of change.

That’s a quote from the band’s own website. They said that, not a well-intentioned hapless friend or a dead-eyed marketing drone or, like, their mothers. I’d love to live in a world where the prospect of music ‘meant for pondering, meant for stillness…meant for listening’ made me sigh in rapturous anticipation, where I could discern something more in that kind of self-regarding platitude than po-faced pompousness and pretention, but I don’t. The world rockets on wretchedly towards disaster, controls set for the heart of the shit, and while a valid case can be made for escapism through music rather than engagement or challenge or even mere reflection of the world, I’m not seeing it here as much as I’m seeing pointless, self-satisfied irrelevance. I can only interpret Barnaby Bright as ‘a warm and welcome wind of change’ if by that you mean me to visualise a cardigan-wearing Geography teacher farting in a human face forever.

All I mean is, I don’t think Nathan and Rebecca Bliss and I would get on well at parties. Their first full-length album is a twee and tremulous thing, brimming with gently whispered vocals and intricately woven melodies. Singing duties are evenly split between Rebecca, whose operatic training is showcased on songs like the sickly ‘The Stone’ and the sickly escapist anthem ‘Girl in the Cage’, and her husband Nathan, whose Garfunkel-esque acoustic harmonies are effectively displayed on the sickly childhood-sweethearts tale ‘The Kissing Tree’ –

– No, no, I’m sorry, I can’t. That was me attempting positivity even as the syrup oozed slowly down my ear canals with terrifying inevitability. This much sugar on one album is impossible to digest and will give you acid reflux in every orifice. The only hint of something other than insipid sickliness is actually the brass neck shown on ‘If I Came Back as a Song’, whose lyrics namecheck Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ from nineteen sixty three. This is a piece of chutzpah which gave me the most startled stab of OH NO YOU DI’N’T, BITCH since Maggie Gyllenhall’s nauseating sap in Stranger Than Fiction called herself an anarchist.

Since it’s in many ways exemplary, let’s deal with ‘If I Came Back As A Song’ at greater length. While from one perspective a track like ‘If I Came Back As A Song’ is a touching declaration of selfless devotion, from another it’s so cloyingly saccharine that listening to it feels like being force-fed molasses by a creepily intent children’s television presenter. I mean, let’s get this straight: the narrator wishes to come back as a song in order that:

Then they could shoot me from a cold satellite
Into a radio that you sleep by at night
And you would call out “This is my favorite song!”
I’d feel so happy watching you sing along…

So you can sing me when you’re feeling sad
I could be the best song friend you ever had
Riding on the airwaves I would fly to you
Maybe then you’d love me too

Now, call me comprehensively and hopelessly embittered, but I honestly cannot fathom how a song like that is meant to be taken at face value without your listener vomiting or applying for a restraining order before you reach the bridge. (This song was, astoundingly, awarded a songwriting prize by a panel which included Tom Waits. This means one of two things: a) Tom Waits is still drinking more than I am, or b) the song is actually a fine addition to the long line of Stalker Folk Anthems that runs from ‘You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies’ to ‘Make You Feel My Love’, and there is more to Barnaby Bright than meets the eyes or ears, something edgier that might yet break the syrupy surface. Unfortunately, such hope is dispelled by every other song on the album and everything else remotely connected with the band.)

I think ultimately I’m just too sullied for the world of Barnaby Bright, the band with a name like that of a clear-eyed and determined Dickensian orphan. They mean well, there’s no denying, but christ almighty they’re pointless. This isn’t going to set the world alight. It isn’t even going to keep the band in cardigans and corduroy. But I have the horrible suspicion that they don’t want it to. I think they’re just happy, and they just want us to be happy too. They’re so sweet they’re sinister.

Sleep well. Go into your room and shut the door. And make sure no one creeps into your room while you sleep, disguised as a folk song.

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2 comments

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