Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future
Barbara Barbara is the shortest record British electronic group Underworld has made yet (just less than 45 minutes), but boasts an intriguing structure — it’s essentially two suites connected by a lengthy interlude.
The first trio of tracks sustain a consistent energy with the opening and sometimes cheeky “I Exhale,” a four-on-the-floor beat with fuzzy, seesawing bass riffs, to the slow-building chants and sun-dazzled synths of “If Rah” down to the shimmering third track, “Low Burn.”
What happens next might seem on first listen like a misstep, but it’s actually key to the strength of Barbara Barbara: “Santiago Cuatro” is not the first mellow, guitar-featuring instrumental on an Underworld album, but at just more than four minutes it’s one of the longest, and it slowly dissipates the dance floor-friendly energy while featuring some lovely fingerpicking. It’s not that the last three songs here wouldn’t work in a club context themselves, but having such a calming oasis in the middle of the album refocuses the listener’s attention, leaving them susceptible to the emotional undertow of “Motorhome,” where Hyde repeats “what don’t lift you, drags you down… keep away from the dark side.”
Underworld has made an album that is absolutely, unabashedly classic Underworld. While the group has no problem staying accessible, it bears seemingly no desire to beg for a new audience, nor to repeat itself. It’s
anything you could ask for as a long-term fan, as well as a late-period album that is actually worth spreading beyond the faithful. Some excellent albums feel like the product of hard, painstaking, stressful work. And some, like this one, feels like a group who has reached a point where their work is just — to quote Underworld’s Karl Hyde — a “radiant mirror” of itself. This is music for that shining future.
—Ian Mathers, PopMatters.com
While Chaosmosis does reveal itself to be Primal Scream’s most conventional yet personal record, it’s sadly not in the same league as their finest work. The biggest disappointment is how flat the two Haim collaborations feel. “Trippin’ on Your Love” shoots for a “Movin’ On Up”-style “spiritual soul shaker” but falls nearer to humdrum ’90s chancers like the Farm or the Soup Dragons. Not good. The foot-stomping melodrama of “100 percent or Nothing” fares little better. It pouts and frowns, does some “Shouty Pointy” and begs “What did you expect?” in a voice uncannily like Bernard Sumner’s, but it’s painfully dour.
—Matt James, PopMatters.com
Other notable releases
Boris With Merzbow, Gensho
HÆLOS, Full Circle
Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression
Glenn Jones, Fleeting
Damien Jurado, Visions of Us on the Land
Lust for Youth, Compassion
Grant-Lee Phillips, The Narrows
Richmond Fontaine, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To
Gwen Stefani, This Is What the Truth Feels Like