Peter Barbee is living among savages. While I am pretty sure that the savages are a little different from those written about by Shirley Jackson in her domestic, short-story compilation Life Among the Savages, they are still savages – and they influenced the name of Barbee’s pseudonym. Barbee recently released his debut album Wanderings of an Illustrative Mind, and its dreamy indie concoction is musically insightful.
My sister told me to check out “New York City,” one of the 12 tracks from this Smoky Mountains native, and it hooked me immediately – enough that I got the urge to check out the entire album and then share my findings with all of you. Before I move on let me shamelessly plug my sister’s arrival into the blogosphere. If you are interested in fashion I ask you to check out her blog, Hipstersleek. While my view of “in style” is a pair of jeans and a sweater, she has some great insights into the world of runway/street styles.
On to Among Savages. The album is multifactorial. Yes, this is a word often used in scientific studies and mathematics, but I believe it is a great way to describe Barbee’s musical style (see I can use style too). Barbee plays with orchestral smoothness, alternative pop beats and variegated harmony. In order to successfully fuse all of these genres, though, the singer must be a chameleon of sorts, and Barbee’s voice certainly has this quality.
I’m going to start with the beginning. Simple enough, right? “Start at the Beginning” is not surprisingly the first track on the album and I think it does an excellent job introducing Barbee’s blend of indie music. It begins with refreshing strings followed by Barbee’s repetition of the title of the track. I immediately get a taste of OneRepublic, specifically Ryan Tedder’s voice, but the song travels a more subdued route. I also think Barbee has even more range to it. The man knows how to sing. He knows when to lay off and when to hit listeners with high notes. The ending is comfortable and infectious. The harmony is creative, to say the least.
I jump forward in the album to “Faith in You,” a concise track that features immediate piano and easy percussion. The song gradually rises, focusing mainly on Barbee’s excellent voice, until we hit a driving chorus that mixes an effervescent violin with the rhythm.
The song that initially drew me into Among Savages was “New York City.” It is track 11 on the album and also features some of the best lyrics in the entire compilation of music.
It must be hard to live in the midst of all those buildings
Where the changing of the wind don’t seem a miracle at all
Don’t bother end to end, it’s a maze of bad habits
Where the rabbit in the hat is just a train in the fog
Yeah, you came here with nothing and you leave here with the same
Sometimes the road that you were walking on is going the wrong way
Just come as you are
When you leave, you will be changed
That is just a small sampling of the piece about the big city. Barbee is a Nashville guy and this song is not an ode to NYC, but I do love the message that one must live everyday like it is a gift. I feel that this message while tired is always true and refreshing, and I don’t think his thoughts are hackneyed but personal and candid. The music though is where the strength lies.
Immediately, it is easy to notice something different about this song. The staccato piano leads into a Band of Horses-like harmony. A driving percussion sets the tone. The song is infused with clear Irish elements followed by loose horns and background party noises. It is like what happens when you combine Great Big Sea with eccentric indie music. That is just awesome! You know a song is great when it is over three minutes long but feels like it only lasts a minute. It moves quickly and is so wonderfully catchy. This is my favorite song on the album and absolutely relevant in the “great new artists and song” discussion.