Barrie – Happy To Be Here

As labels go there are few that so consistently deliver quality from the left of centre as Winspear. Adding to their cannon of artists the ‘small indie’ label is now sharing a new debut. Happy To Be Here from Barrie sounds nothing like any other artist on the label, and yet it is so typically Winspear. Let’s dig in.

Not least in the distinguishing features of Happy To Be Here is the explicit tone of optimism. The current cultural climate is unquestionably tempered by the social, political and economic atmosphere. Life, if we believe news and twitter feeds, is usually bleak, contentious or confusing. Barrie are aware of all of this, and so they acknowledge the depth, but look to the height of things. They register the pains, but they focus on alternatives or solutions. They drive though the landscape in a perfect pop vehicle.

An accomplishment of Barrie Lindsay’s songwriting is that it’s band-driven pop. The human scale of things informs everything here, but this isn’t simple ‘selfie-songwriting’. There’s none of that ‘I love someone, I can’t have them, I’m sad‘ stuff that clutters the common debut.

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Barrie, instead, populate this collection with tales that go exploring. There is something of honest aspiration. Domestic measures are held against distant dreams. Tracks like ‘Darjeeling’, ‘Chinatown’, ‘Dark Tropical’, seek out the exotic – and use associations of memory, place, and longing, to describe the internal. Nothing occurs in a vacuum.

There are moments when we wonder if Happy To Be Here is perhaps a little sarcastic. There is more than one sardonic nod to the trials that we endure. ‘Geology’ is a track of such bitter-sweetness we “Shift weight back” and acknowledge “…this isn’t over…” in referring to the habits we develop. The pressures of sedimentary experience build up. Don’t be fooled by the breeze, there are passions burning somewhere downwind.

It’s in a track like ‘Geology’ that musicianship across the band is best displayed. There are more intricate, or sophisticated tracks across the album, but it’s in these simpler passages that the power of guitar hook, and synth bed offer up a soulful example of abilities. By keeping things parred down to the natural elements Barrie make things essential.

It’s rare that a band can produce an album that sounds so breezy, but also so capable of deepening an atmosphere. Oddly, in talking about musicianship we should nod at the sensibility that brings straight-from-the-box drum-machine tempo to ‘Saturated’. This track points at the substance of things. Barrie knows how to nurture the authentic nature of things, even if that means stepping back to step up. “I am saturated with you” is the lyrical cornerstone – to overstate anything in instrumentation would be unnecessary, if not ridiculous. Barrie know what they’re doing. In holding back they’re delivering everything.

Happy To Be Here stands out like the quiet portfolio of artists who took themselves home from shows, not to attend afterparties or impress probable affairs. This is an album that interests itself with art, not by being seen in the scene. This album sounds like the result of shy people with better abilities than their more vocal peers. They want to talk, dance, and sing – but they also want to listen and engage with ideas beyond the mainstream. “Close my eyes in the middle of the day / Close my eyes and I feel it’s just the same” just about sums up the here-ness and now-ness, and the retreat from noise that’s being offered.

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