Anton Barbeau plays “pre-apocalyptic psychedelic pop.” He’s a Taurus, born in Sacramento and now living by a canal in Berlin. He’s made something like 20 albums and has worked with members of XTC, The Soft Boys, the Bevis Frond, Cake, the Loud Family and Mystery Lawn label-mates, the Corner Laughers. Julian Cope got him stoned in Croydon once. His new album is Magic Act and it’s not bad at all.
Stationed in a dimension populated by surrealistic images and characters, the California-born singer, songwriter and multiple instrumentalist not only dispenses a flair for composing animated lyrics, but also sports a talent for sculpting striking sounds and structures.
With his esoteric and highly-personalized brand of singer-songwriter shtick, “mind-bending” stage show and auto-neurotic humor, he’s been called a genius by BBC Radio, built a global fan base and released numerous well-received records, including a best-of collection of “golden and completely obscure hits.”
Some of the songs for ‘Magic Act’ were written for a third album for Three Minute Tease, Barbeau’s UK band with former Soft Boys/Egyptians Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor.
A sudden case of “artistic differences” meant a change in course and Barbeau found himself making a solo record all in multiple countries with all sorts of people. Colin Moulding from XTC played bass on one track, Martin Gordon from Sparks on another.
“Juggling the twin inspirations of psychedelic ambition and new wave whimsy, the album taps into the same creative well left-field luminaries like early Pink Floyd, the Electric Prunes, 10CC, Game Theory, XTC and Devo”
— Something Else
Karla Kane from the Corner Laughers sent vocal tracks via Dropbox, while Allyson Seconds and Larry Tagg did tracking in his dad’s house in Sacramento. Barbeau explains, “You’ve got to start out or end up in the same room at some point, hopefully. It’s important for me to have that “in the room” connection with the people I make music with, but this record was made as much online as anywhere.”
While the recording of the album was modern the title, Magic Act, is as “analogue and hiss” as it gets, and quite nostalgic. Barbeau’s uncle had been a professional magician and he passed his magic kit on to young Anton.
“I did magic shows as a kid for a bit before getting into acting, where my first role was as Jesus in Godspell. Kinda hard to top that and my “drama career” went downhill thankfully from there. Meanwhile, synths and songwriting came into my teenage life and I was saved! Music, at its best, IS magic for me. How the hell does Julian Cope just preening onstage make everything glow cosmic purple? And you can read or write chapters on John Lennon’s voice, but that sound he makes transcends a thousand words. I’m so fortunate to be doing music, and to be doing it with heroes of mine is not something I take for granted. Sure, I’ve put in all the hard work in the world, but it’s the magic that pays its own reward.”
After amassing critical acclaim and a cult following in his native California, Barbeau spent several years exploring stone circles and sipping tea in England and currently drinks his coffee in Berlin. In recent years he has toured the UK with Julian Cope, shared the stage and/or studio with the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, Weezer, Stornoway, The Bevis Frond, and even a reformed Bay City Rollers.
‘Magic Act’ starts with High Noon, a song that asks the question “Did the CIA really kill the Virgin Mary by sending her on a suicide mission to the moon?” Milk Churn In The Morning was inspired by the Polish entry in Eurovision 2014 and features Andy and Morris, “artistic differences” be damned! Sit Your Leggy Down is the most spontaneous track on the album, made up on the spot at home in Sacramento. Guitars, vocals, bass and drums in 40 minutes! Broken In Two, on the other hand, was written and recorded slowly over months, bit by bit, as Anton stared deeper and deeper into the pages of Jung’s captivating Red Book.
The Wait Of You comes from somewhere near Avebury, Swindon is a love song (with vampires) while Blue Lamp Rider references his California days working every weekend as a musician in the suburbs and surrounding towns.
But for all the variety on this album it really comes down to only one thing; classic pop songwriting. Without that ability no one can claim a place in rock’s great galaxy and Anton Barbeau has it in spades. On ‘Magic Act’ his skills are on full display and beautifully presented. Listen and enjoy.