The Attractions of Youth

Barns Courtney is a name I only became somewhat familiar with a year ago. His song “Fire” has had quite a bit of radio play here in the US and I liked it enough to add it to my music collection, but that’s as far as my knowledge went. Turns out he is fairly new as a solo musician, his first and only solo album having been released in 2015.

Barns was born in England, but spent his early years (from 4 to 15) in Seattle and I believe that influenced his overall sound enormously. He isn’t grunge at all, but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on that reminds me of it. Maybe it’s the weathered and heavy vocals? I don’t know, and if you have thoughts on this, let me know.

Wikipedia has Barns Courtney listed under blues rock and folk-pop, though I don’t really agree with that second one. His sound features a gritty, world-weary type of voice, reverb effects that make me feel like he recorded in a tunnel, and an overall gritty production style that is becoming increasingly common. I’m all for it, though I’ll be the first to admit it can get a little old after a short time. I wasn’t sure if I would find anything else he has released that I would like. I am happy to report that I did.

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Not every track on his only album caught my interest, but a few of them did. Honestly, since he is fairly new to the scene there isn’t a lot for me to try and digest so that’s all I really have to say. But I’m not stopping there; I’m taking advantage of the shorter post to get into detail on what I like and don’t like about individual tracks.

Shall we go through them one at a time? I’ll add a Youtube link to each one if you’d like to hear it.

First up, “Fire”

This song is well structured. The chorus has a nice build and energy that grows naturally and dramatically from the calmer verse. The instrumentation is simple as it needs to be, emphasizing the vocals and effects while remaining interesting. The bridge brings to mind images of old western movies with a whistled countermelody put to great effect along with vocal exclamations running underneath. It’s a great song, and I am completely unsurprised at its popularity.

“Golden Dandelions”

With a higher tempo and a more melodic vocal line, it’s set apart from “Fire” though this track still has his signature sound. The thing that stands out the most is the heavy reliance on drums throughout the song, but especially in the verse. He seems to continue his structure pattern of ABABCB that is so common throughout pop music, but that’s not a bad thing. Overall, I really like this track, and it has an interesting music video.

“Hellfire”

The first thing he did right with this song was having the intro set the tone before a dramatic pull back for the first verse. Like in “Fire”, he has a natural and dramatic build up from the verse to the chorus. The beat is infectious, not in a danceable way, but rather in a head-nodding way. His gritty sound is amplified with this one.

“Hobo Rocket”

This song starts with some random spoken words from a “hobo” that made it stick out a bit. There is a rhyme scheme in the verse that makes me think of 90’s rock pretty strongly, but all of the elements blend together very well. One example would be the background vocals with a chorus effect put to excellent use alongside the main guitar line. It transitions into the next track on the album titled “Hobo Outside Tesco, London – Interlude” This track is pretty much an extension of “Hobo Rocket” with spoken rhyme audio from what I expect was a hobo outside of a Tesco in London. It’s different and was a nice break in the middle of the album.

 

“Champion”

This is an anthem for conquering something. I imagine it being used in a car commercial or a movie montage about someone becoming stronger for whatever sport or fight they need to face. Really, it’s a little like this generations version of “Eye of the Tiger” Please note I am not comparing the two songs, just pointing out that’s the general feeling inspired by this song. I mean, the chorus lyrics are literally “champion, I can take a beating, I’ll rise again, burning through the jungle until the end” If that doesn’t spell out the storyline to every sports movie that came after the original Rocky, I don’t know what does. I quite like it, though for some reason I want that movie montage to take place in a corporate office featuring someone sweating over powerpoints, sales calls, and coffee breaks… Anyway, his voice and the effects they put on it are ideally suited to a song like this.

“Kicks”

Another great song for a movie montage, the chorus is something you can really rock out to, the pre-chorus is the perfect change in style leading to the chorus, and the verses are nicely short to make the whole thing move at a good pace. Now that I think about it, he seems to have mastered making his songs short enough to never get really old. If they were longer tracks I probably wouldn’t like them as much. There isn’t a single track that exceeds 4 minutes on this album.

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And that’s it. If you like his style, please check out the whole album. I was pretty glad to have an artist that didn’t have hours upon hours of music for me to listen to, this project is a little tough sometimes.

 

Get In Line

 

Barenaked Ladies are fairly universally liked. They are fun, energetic, clever, and their music is frequently uptempo and fun to sing along to. Add in excellent arrangements and instrumentation, and you have a pretty decent recipe for a band.

When someone mentions Barenaked Ladies the first thing to come into your head is likely their song “One Week” or possibly “Pinch Me” followed by “If I Had $1,000,000” or “It’s All Been Done”

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As a rock band, they are kind of in the novelty category, since many of their most popular songs are kind of random or silly with subjects that are humorous or sung about in a comedic way often showcasing rapped lyrics in a style nearly devoid of hip-hop or R&B. Personally, I love it, as I feel it’s always a good idea to mix things up and be unexpected in music.

They’re not entirely lighthearted though. Barenaked Ladies have many songs that deal with heavy topics in a poignant manner. I would especially point out “War On Drugs” which is about suicide and mental health issues. It’s a very powerful song centered around a bridge in Toronto where people would go to jump. Honestly it kind of stopped me in my tracks, and I think that coming from a group I viewed as fun and carefree made it strike home harder than it might have, had it come from a more typically somber group.

And that’s certainly not the only serious song they have. Before I began listening to their discography I was familiar with the song “Call and Answer” which is ultimately about the reconciliation of a difficult relationship. Which when you think about it, is not a common take on love songs, is it? More often you hear about love-at-first-sight, true love, breakups, cheaters, moving on, etc. It’s interesting to hear one that focuses on not just the difficulties of a relationship, but overcoming them as well.

Anyway, it is a beautiful song, the overlapping vocals and harmonies add a lot of power layered on top of the chiming guitar background. That is actually one of my all-time favorite songs by this band, and anytime it comes on I will absolutely sing along the entire time. There was a really nice version of this song on one of their live albums featuring Alanis Morissette that I found quite enjoyable.

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I wouldn’t neglect their upbeat and fun songs though, as that is arguably what makes them so well loved. They run a gamut of topics from the mundane to the serious to the outright ridiculous. Who else would write a song about getting unsigned postcards featuring chimpanzees? Weird, but a delightful and catchy song.

I’ll list all my favorite tracks at the end of this post, but if you want an album to check out I recommend either Grinning Streak or Stunt. They released an album this past year called Fake Nudes but I found it lacking their usual vim and vigor and wasn’t overly impressed by any of the songs.

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One thing about their discography, at least on Spotify, is the absolutely massive amount of live albums. They aren’t part of their official discography, but they are there nonetheless. From what I can figure, they released recordings of every live performance for their tour promoting the album Everything to Everyone, mixed and released as-is by the end of the show. I did not listen to all of these, as there were just too many and they were all essentially the same. If you don’t count those live recordings, since 1992 they have made twelve standard studio albums, one holiday album (which has some fun tracks), one kid’s album, a Shakespeare themed album (which is not on Spotify and I haven’t listened to yet), and a handful each of live albums, compilations, and E.P.’s. That’s a pretty solid career.

Based on the live albums I did listen to, I would definitely want to go see them live. They would be a fun show and great showmen, I’m sure of it.

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Well, I suppose it’s time for my “Top Tracks” list.

“One Week” “Another Postcard” “If I Had $1,000,000” “Get In Line” “Pinch Me” “Call and Answer” “Never Is Enough” and “It’s All Been Done” are the songs I knew well before this post, and they are all fantastic.

As for new discoveries:

“Bank Job” Probably my favorite find in this post. Absolutely hilarious.

“Odds Are”

“Easy”

“Testing 1, 2, 3”

“Did I Say That Out Loud?”

“Boomerang”

“Toe to Toe”

“Duct Tape Heart”

I added way more than just these to my Spotify, but they are the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned. An overall good mix of fun and heartfelt, Barenaked Ladies is just a great band who puts out great music. If you haven’t given them a chance before, please do so now, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, here’s the video for “Odds Are” just for you:

I think I need to watch that one a couple times to absorb all the stuff going on.

Enjoy your listening, and if you have any new music you want to share with me, send me a message!