Barbarisms’ third album “West in the Head” is a destination record, each song depicting the frame of mind it took to get there. This unspecific “there” is a place called into question through the imagination’s will to rediscover what’s right in front of us. The album title is inspired by the essay “Exile” of William H Gass, itself influenced by Gertrude Stein’s reading of American Expansionism and the American Modernists in Paris. In the political-dadaist romp, the saying “Freewheeling through the old world” gets then reinterpreted: “When you reach the Pacific, there’s no place left but the West in the Head”.
For the past 10 years, or the entirety of what might be called his adult life, Barbarisms’ American songwriter, Nicholas Faraone has been living in Europe. After a couple years performing solo among the anti-folk scene in Paris, he landed in Stockholm where he met Tom Skantze and Robin Af Ekenstam. The two Swedes, who had been performing in tight and technical pop and post-punk bands, found themselves adapting to a songwriter who didn’t know which rules he was or wasn’t breaking.
While Barbarisms’ self-titled and well-received debut nonchalantly indulged all the band’s many eccentricities, their second album “Browser” was a more streamlined effort, where songcraft wove their idiosyncrasies through their own blend of 90’s college rock and Americana. Touring this record took the band throughout Europe, with pit-stops in the UK, where they shared the stage with acts like Destroyer, Timber Timbre, The Burning Hell, The Shout Out Louds, and their studio-mates Alice Boman and Small Feet.
Remaining out of fashion to the current tastes Barbarisms kept their heads down to write a third record which is as rich in melodic warmth as it is brutal in emotional undertones. The writing and composing is again timeless and so unlike what is going on in the current music scene, which is why they fit so well DevilDuck Records — “everything we do is out!”. “West in the Head” smooths out some of the jagged edges of earlier Barbarisms recordings but never loses the quirkiness and spontaneity of first takes and fortunate mistakes.
The album exults of the sunny 70’s singer-songwriter charm to illuminate the sometimes dark details of a life dedicated to writing, theme covered in several tracks. The songs’ narratives poke fun at traditional tortured artists’ stories by toying with the language of romantic poetry, adventure stories, spy novels, corporate slang and newspeak, while the music continually plays into and against expectations of genre. True to their spontaneous composing process, Skantze and Af Ekenstam used their experience as studio engineers to record songs the day they were made.
The album art for “West in the Head” was created by Jan Håfström, a hero of the Swedish art world who has just celebrated his 80th birthday. The white bus was meant to depict the imaginative vehicle that drives the record, but it is also an image that has haunted Håfström since childhood. Even though he rode these white buses to school, as a child he always imagined the passengers inside to be dead. Later in life, when he was investigating his memory, he learned that these buses were used in the effort to rescue Jews during World War II from Nazi Germany into Sweden. One of Håfström most iconic images is now a sculpture standing about 10 meters high outside of Stockholm’s central station. This statue (“ Vem är Mr Walker”) is of a man wearing a long coat, a hat and sunglasses. He is running off somewhere nonspecific. It’s a sight that those close to Faraone are also familiar with.

Barbarisms is a fresh garage wind on mostly electronic waters in Södermalm. – NOISEY

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