Barcelona – Absolutes
Record Label: Universal Motown Records
Release Date: April 28, 2009
During a recent discussion of Absolutes, Barcelona’s re-released album from 2007, a trusted advisor described the band as “aural heaven.” This struck me in a significant manner. And then, after I looked up the meaning of “aural”, it struck me even more. Quite a compliment, indeed. Soon after beginning the always-bellowing, ever-emotional ride that is Absolutes, I knew the description was apt. Brian Fennell, the band's main songwriter, is right to have so much faith in Absolutes. Other than the addition of two new songs (piano-rock masterpiece “Come Back When You Can” and pulsing “The Takers”) and one re-recording (“Colors”), this is essentially the same record. The band is probably itching to start anew, but I’m far from ready to move forward.
It’s true that, as a re-release, Absolutes isn’t very meaty. Longtime fans of the band will do better to download the new selections. Let’s be honest, a collector’s item this is not. For those of you (i.e. me) just entering into Fennell’s world of Augustana-on-steroids, piano-laden mood rock, Absolutes will certainly be one of the better records released through a major label this year. That being said, don’t expect to hear these songs on the radio. With the possible exceptions of upbeat “Colors” or maybe the guitar-heavy rock of “It’s About Time”, Barcelona will stay an indie band. The music is a smidge too smart for rock radio, not dumb enough for pop radio, and there’s no fuzziness, so you know college radio is out of the question. My mom might like it, though.
But then again, I’m in college (for now!). Rhett Stonelake’s spazzy drumming on “Lesser Things” easily keeps my attention. Ballad-with-balls “Faded” has synthesized strings and a confrontational bassline – I could easily break up with my girlfriend to this song’s climactic ending. I guess what I’m trying to say is: stranger albums have latched on to stranger people. Someone must be listening or Universal wouldn’t have offered the customary bags o’ money and Lauren Conrad lunch meetings. But a song like closer, “Please Don’t Go”, makes it clear that this band doesn’t care about that junk. “Please Don’t Go” also makes it clear that everyone should like Barcelona regardless of race, creed or wardrobe. Lyrically it’s a bit trite (“When you crashed in the clouds / You found me”), but focusing on Fennell’s achingly fragile voice as an instrument and not an oracle helps. Simple piano sections and twinkling bells become awash in the band’s grand orchestral statement, and by using descending string arrangements with happy-go-lucky percussion, Barcelona create the score for your next favorite romantic comedy.
Pop music doesn’t have to reach someone because it can reach everyone. Barcelona may have trouble finding a large enough audience to keep their major label sharks biting, but since when did I care about that? To me, Absolutes is a stunning movement of intelligent, atmospheric, and hey!, catchy pop music.
Recommended If You Like:Augustana, Brightwood, surprise, slow James Morrison songs, hits(?)