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Now Hear This: Anton Barbeau | Kenny Vs. Thrust

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Anton Barbeau is said to play “pre-apocalyptic psychedelic pop”, but that tag doesn’t even begin to touch on the scope of his work. His oeuvre ranges from surreal acoustic balladry to experimental electronica to the mutant neo-cabaret of his recent album Berliner Grotesk. On Kenny Vs. Thrust, though, Anton rocks. The record takes its name from Ant’s current backing bands in the U.S. and U.K. – Sacramento’s Kenny and Oxford, England’s Thrust, known in their own right as Charms Against The Evil Eye – and is possessed of a loose and live energy that sets it apart from the man’s other works.

The songs are drawn from Barbeau’s songbook spanning from his teen years to the present day, but the all-new performances are fresh and immediate, and the bi-continental production is a cohesive and bracing dive into the essence of Antmusik across time. And just who is Anton? He’s a Taurus, born in Sacramento and now living by a canal in Berlin. He’s made something like 30 albums and has worked with members of XTC, The Soft Boys, The Bevis Frond, Cake and The Corner Laughers. He draws frequent comparisons to the likes of Syd Barrett, Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock (whose erstwhile Egyptians bandmates Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe constituted the other two thirds of Ant’s band Three Minute Tease). He split the singing and songwriter duties with the legendary Scott Miller on The Loud Family’s What If It Works? LP. Anton breathes rarefied air indeed.

As with many of those influences and peers, there’s a special magic when a musical polymath like Anton steps in front of a sympatico live band and lets the chemistry take over. On Kenny Vs. Thrust, Barbeau has two such bands: the titular Kenny (Kevin Allison: guitar, Tom Monson: drums, and Jeff Simons: bass) and Thrust (Matt Sewell: guitar, Jules Moss: bass, and Richard Nash: drums). Anton adroitly mixes and matches his tunes to each combo’s considerable strength. Thus it’s Thrust powering through the two-guitar sludge attack of the opener Wire From The Wall (sounding not unlike, well, Wire), the rhythmically trippy pysch of Popsong 99 and the delightfully titled Beautiful Bacon Dream, and the Hitchcock-indebted and -referencing Haunted in Fenland. Mahjong Dijon, with its acoustic-and-electric-12-string swagger, rounds out the contributions from the moonlighting Charms Against The Evil Eye lads (from whom we hope to hear more under their own name).

Across the pond in California, it’s Kenny backing Ant on the bracing meta-metal of Land of Economy (replete with serpentine fuzz-guitar lines from Barbeau himself), the stately Burning Burning, and the country-tinged Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag (on which Corner Laugher Karla Kane gets “the last word”) — all of which Anton classes as his most political of tunes and are adorned with the requisite intensity any good protest deserves. Amazingly, they also sound imminently at home on the sweetly synth-laden Back To Balmain and the dub workout Tidy Up Yourself. And there’s room along the way for the Ant-only Jingle Jangle, which serves as both a takedown and prime example of the genre its title would lead one to expect.

“There’s something beautifully balanced between the style and sound of each band. Of course, there’s me gluing it all together with too many synths,” says Anton. And it hangs together wonderfully, united by the singular lyrical whimsy for which Barbeau is known. Kenny Vs. Thrust is destined to be the most car-stereo-crankable disc of Anton’s — or perhaps anyone’s — year.”