This is one of those song-by-song reviews of the first time a reviewer hears an album you’ll see here sometimes, except I’m not limiting myself to 140 characters because I have lots of pent-up brain “activity” to dump out. I like this format because it’s like an experiment and I can use the scientific method.
Problem: It’s nice out and you should be listening to music. There’s an album by an amazing songwriter out there that won’t get loads of press because it was just released on Bandcamp and the artist doesn’t get to tour that much. Also, I’ve run out of regular sentences and need some kind of altered framework to force myself to write the review. Can the lazy music reviewer convince his audience to give this gem of an independent album a listen? (Listen to it yourself on Barnett’s Bandcamp; you don’t even have to read this review!)
Background Research: Branden Barnett is the songwriter and lead singer for Columbus Ohio indie rock band Ghost Shirt. Up front, I love Ghost Shirt. “History of the Radio” is a “Heroes and Villains“-grade great song. Barnett and co. followed it up with one of the decade’s best albums, Daniel. I’m serious about how much I love Ghost Shirt. If you take out the occasional Leonard Cohen update, Ghost Shirt is better than any band covered on Pitchfork. They should be college rock legends by now. They haven’t been as active since they attempted a 52 songs in 52 weeks campaign in 2010, but instead wound up with the concept album, Daniel; since then, Barnett has been working on his solo album, Verse, Chorus, Curse, which he funded through Kickstarter. Barnett also produced Shane Sweeney’s The Finding Time.
Hypothesis: Going into this listen, I expect the songs won’t be as lush and orchestral without the rest of Ghost Shirt behind Barnett. I anticipate a sharper sound with lots of synth. WIth a title like Verse, Chorus, Curse, I’m on the lookout for songs that subvert that basic pop song structure. All this based on the two singles and a collection of cover songs Barnett released over the last year to tide folks over while he was building the album.
Here we go: good writing from Barnett, bad writing from me!
1. “Verse, Chorus, Curse” — A song about breaking routines in love and songwriting, I think. Good, steamrolling intro to the album. “It’s a battleship love.”
3. “Last Rites” — Machine whistling leads to more danceable power pow, leads to soul-saving back-half refrain and back to more machine whistling. Brilliant. “If only licking wounds was foreplay.”
4. “Paralyzed by Love” — A different version than the single he released last year. Rusty, gorgeous violin from Ghost Shirt bandmate Samantha Kim, who produced this whole affair. Song of Joey Ramone-esque sincerity and simplicity.
5. “Jack-O-Lantern” — By this point, Barnett has killed it on every chorus; but this might be the catchiest so far. This song could fit on a Ghost Shirt album. Should be on the radio (cough).
6. “Shadow of Vultures” — See, I’m running out of ways to say “Yes. Yes, keep on rocking.”
8. “Heart Won’t Bend” — This was the other single he released last year; this version sticks pretty close.
9. “Bricks and Wires” — Closer on piano, violin joins late. Standard and fucking devastating. “You have always been the city to me, bricks and wires pass right through me.”
Conclusion: Essential Listening. The songs don’t necessarily subvert the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-repeat structure; they tinker, hone, and restore that structure. “All that I want is a head full of nothing, and ocean of sound, and the heart of a beautiful girl. This is all that it was, this is all that it ever could be.” The pop curse broken by a batch of well-crafted songs that you can drink and dance and drink and dance alone to. What more could you want?
* iTunes has a different track order than Barnett’s Bandcamp. Actually, it looks like it would be a pretty good sequence. But I went through the Bandcamp bill.