Charlie Barnes - Geekk

Owain Paciuszko 27/07/2010

Rating: 4/5

Following on from his rather lovely EP, No Offenkk, incredibly talented 21 year old Barnes has assembled this ten track debut album.

The opening track A City Built feels like just that, the slow, tentative steps as the first curious building blocks are - like a child's toy - laid into place, with the careful plink and plonk of Barnes' piano in amongst staggered synthy soundscapes. Barnes' voice invades like Matt Bellamy after a few whiskeys as the track drifts into the next; Architects and it blooms from there into a fuller, sweeping orchestral number. It's a pretty decent opening pairing, lyrically apt and swooningly optimistic in a downbeat kind of way.

This Boy Blind (which alongside Architects and Oradour featured on Barnes' ep) is a more upbeat tune, Barnes sounding like Thom Yorke covering Steve Harley. He fixes the bugs of the earlier version, giving the drum beat more depth and the song a better overall flavour that is illustrative of his maturing and craft as a musician. Degas Dancer has a similarly light, flitty mood to it, mixing its string arrangments neatly around a skippy pop package in a fashion that rightly earns Barnes his Rufus Wainwright comparisons, though his edge is more bitter and mournful than Wainwright's.

Moving from the wide instrumentation of the previous track into Bedroom which features multiple layers of Barnes own voice providing a beatbox, backing vocals, etc. It's like a Barbershop Quartet covering The Postal Service, a live favourite for Barnes and no less impressive on record, capturing the structured spontaneity of a heavily looped composition. Bluebell, like Bedroom, is a song that's been with Barnes for a long time, a very simple piano driven ballad, he employs some welcome strings here to give the track some flavour.

Oradour was a personal favourite from his ep, and it returns here, showcasing Barnes' vocal impressively in its opening, which is a tapestry of strings, drums brewing like a storm and distant trumpets. It's the most visual of Barnes' songs, conjuring up all manner of images and taking the listener on a bizarre and thrilling journey across the ebb and flow of music. It's an absolutely brilliant collage of sound, somewhere between a psychedelic sea shanty and a supper club jazz song performed in rehab. It gives way to the title track which opens with twinking keys before lurching into a theatrical kind of mosey, from a production point of view it has a particularly accomplished sound, mixing its varying tempos with considerable skill, diverse in its instrumentation, but not quite there as the kind of hair-raising pop song it seemingly aspires to be.

Closing track Final Call is a slow-burn, opening as a sparse ballad, throwing in a gentle processed beat and Barnes vocal wisely plays the restraint and regret of his lyrics; 'We're not built for the future.' When it does start to pick up the pace it's with more of a spacey-jazz vibe in the Brian Eno-mould, ending with a boarding call from a 70s sci-fi intergalatic airport and the murmur of voices. It's a surprisingly, and pleasantly, subtle way to draw the curtain on this record.

For all my quibbles and pinickity criticisms of aspects of this record, it is, without doubt, a hugely impressive piece of work and fully deserving of a great deal of recognition. Barnes is still developing as a musician, his ability improving in leaps and bounds, almost with every syllable he sings, and this LP is an early sign of wonders to come. Highly recommended listening.