Barker – Utility (Ostgut Ton, 2019)

Symbiosis of sound meets never ending sonicness on an extordinary journey.

Journeys to the outer edges only seem to resonate within electronica. Many musicians have explored deep into the realms of the imaginary and the realism that electronic music can conjure up, through the spectrum of sounds that delight, disarray and delve within in equal measure. When musicians utilise synths and drum machines to create electronic soul, it often comes across as the machine being used as a folly for artists to exercise their emotional muscles. A means to an end, the machine utilised without much meaning or context, other than being used to craft some form of vision that we all buy in to, or not. However, some artists seem to become one with the machine, in that they blend and mould the sounds as if they share some form of collective consciousness. Man and machine working in tandem to create a world where the sounds created resonate on so many levels, dripping into our minds and inviting us to tell our own tales of the narrative we wish to seek within the sonicness of it all.

Barker is one of these such artists. A musician who seeks out the layers within the drum and the highs to create something that emits some kind of pure energy, an endless experience where things unravel at the pace which we become accustomed to during his songs. It is a blend of familiarity that persists within his world, yet the notion that the emphasis being placed on the waves and shapes of synths and keys meaning that other elements play such an insignificant part (almost). Here, we are bound to this journey that Barker wants us to perhaps narrate but more importantly swim within his music, moving along as we take that step towards something familiar yet the seemingly never-ending and the unknown. His 2018 EP, ‘Debiasing’, perfectly summed up this tone, and would be a springboard for the ideas and concepts that would join together for his debut LP. A workout for the mind through the sensibilities and trustworthiness of the dancefloor, via the colossal sounds of his synths, along with contexts provided by the names of the tunes, creates a futuristic world of surreal tones, hypnotic emotive pads, and light drums that only add to the mystique and the intrigue. Lets take a chance and have an experience.

The opener, ‘Paradise Engineering’, opens up with this sparse feel, with the synth line just dotting along by itself. It draws us near before fading a bit, before some depth is added with some pads coming in behind it. it feels likes the title, the notion we associate with generic forms of paradise – the palm trees, the sunshine, the haze, the relaxation – is all felt here, at least until the cymbals come into play. We feel this sudden swell that is commonly associated with dance floors, that moment of familiarity that comes from the beat coming in. The cymbals grow and grow in intensity, starting off at the back before firmly placing themselves in the foreground, as the synths become more drawn out. The lead line has almost disappeared within itself, as if this is the unknown, the concept that the engineered sounds has a mind of its own. The drums never kick in, and suddenly we are within the song completely. Like a sea of mist, or an unending landscape, its enveloping to an extraordinary degree. The atmosphere of titanic electronics and human emotion wrapped up here for us all to feel. Up next we have ‘Posmean’, which starts off in familiar territory. The club style stabs, akin to the works of Levon Vincent and Anthony Naples, gives us that connection that we weren’t exactly yearning for, but were just looking for some form of guidance (which isn’t a bad thing). Here, Barker uses the synth to a larger and fuller effect, the moment starting out extremely strong, with subtle variations in the sound waves and forms moving the song forward. If the first song was a journey through sonic tendencies, this is an experiment in the consistent, notions rather than fluctuations, that keep the intregue at an extremely high level. Up next comes ‘Experience Machines’, which has that oh so feel to it. Detroit tinged melodies dripping in metallic vibes, the stabs dwell and vibrate enormously, creating a very interesting series of spaces between them. They are joined by all manner of other hypnotic drivers, and cymbals join in for good measure. This tune again hints at the dance floor, a nod to the driving, melodic yet expertly built dance tunes of the early 90s, where experimentation through sound was commonplace. For the most adventurous of dance floors, this would be killer, as the tune swells beautifully without losing sight of its initial brilliance. A low droning synth slices through the middle, adding further to its dynamics and its weight as a tune. Top stuff.

‘Gradients of Bliss’ comes next. Deep deep pads wash and sway over high tempo shakers, and give this almost synthetic feel of the sea. A relentless and almost restless energy persist greatly here, but that is where the magic lies. It feels as if the ground is lightly shaking, pulsating through and moving all that sits on top of it. You can almost imagine it. Like sediment running down a mountain side, that then gently drops down onto your head, this is the image that is conjured up by this writer anyway. The synths at times do their thing of showing a bit more, but never too much, just gracefully toying with us within our eternal slumber. Up next we have ‘Hedonic Treadmill’, and we fall back into the up tempo spectrum. The stabs once again provide the structure, assisted greatly by the gentle drum patterns. But here the song adds in another extra dynamic that was perhaps more subtle before. Emotive pads join in, really grooving away, drawing us into an imagined world rather than one that is more robotic and metallic. Here the familiarity is there in spades, electronic music that makes us feel, with its gorgeous range. It feels like a workout for the emotions, for the mind, a flash in the pan, before its all over. ‘Models of Wellbeing’ comes next. This feels like a travelling song, but the name of the song suggests otherwise. Flitered synths and drawn out lines make up the bedrock of the tune, that has all the energy of a high speed train. Pulsating along, this one wraps around your head and spins fast but soft, moving from the bottom and rising to the top. Barker once again moulds and bends the synths, but they seem to be acting along with this, working within their own little agenda. ‘Utility’ comes next, and it just keeps the vibe going strong. This one is all about the pure energy that can be exuded from synths and no drums. It progresses little, with smaller elements moving away and back again, but that just doesn’t matter. By this point, you are stuck in Barker’s world. And it feels so good. ‘Wireheading’ comes next, and its a nice little change of pace to the last few tunes. Produced down in the depths, it has a more humanistic feel to it, with emotive keys and chords built within a submerged kind of world. The essence of what keys can do without the exploitation of going into full on electronic overdrive. Finally, we have the mega trip ‘Die-Hards of the Darwinian Order’. Here, we are realised into a fully realised world. All aspects and elements of this tune feel so expertly placed, taking aspects of the previous vibes and condensing them into this trippy evolution of mind and sound. Drums are metallic as hell, the chords above humanistic but still manufactured, the kicks hitting hard as concrete. The nature of the composition creates vast vacuums of sound, where these elements are heard only. It’s surreal, and feels like the sort of noises a musical industrial factory would make at night by itself, looking out into the city that produced it. The human touch feels secondary here, the emotion very much second nature to the drums that feel like primitive electronica. It’s harrowing, it’s industrial, its downtempo, it’s a triumph. The scale and boldness found within this tune is endless. Cooorr blimey.

Barker treads that fine line between the emotion we sometimes yearn for and connect with from electronic music, whilst using it as a means of reflecting modern life and society in general. The music generated here has this heavy weight to it, every sound engineered half and half between man and machine. Aside from the content of the record, it is expertly produced to that effect, not to mention the boldness of the synths and arrangements applied. A man who dived into the meaning of the futuristic sounds of 80s techno and 90s electronica and repackaged it for the modern age: nothing much has changed, we still look for some yearning through the music and contexts we surround ourselves with. And Barker might be the best at working within that intersection between life, the imaginary and the sounds that accompany it. Album of the year? probably.

Support the troops:

https://sambarker.bandcamp.com/album/utility

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