Song: Defiant Bicycle
Album: Barbez (2004)
The word "eclectic" doesn't quite begin to cover the diversity of styles and influences that come together in the Brooklyn-based ensemble Barbez. The band's lineup includes a virtuoso Theremin player, a percussionist manning a marimba, and someone who conjures noises from a Palm Pilot. The group's repertoire includes Russian folk songs, the music of Kurt Weill, and covers of Black Sabbath and the Residents. (…)
Imagine Kurt Weill chewing sausages with the Residents underneath the Williamsburg Bridge while watching a Russian wedding dance and you have some approximation of Barbez, Brooklyn’s one-of-a-kind post-cabaret punk chamber ensemble. Provoked by Slavic folksong, Argentine tango, post-war classical and pre-MTV punk, Barbez wrings these disparate worlds into their own unique soundscape. The group began five years ago with members whose backgrounds were in dance, rock, jazz, electronics and avant-garde classical: Ksenia Vidyaykina, Dan Kaufman, Danny Tunick (Bang On A Can Allstars), Pamelia Kurstin (Geggy Tah, The Kurstins), Dan Coates and Shahzad Ismaily. Barbez draws its unusual instrumentation into a haunting, original sound that evokes everything from Swans and PJ Harvey to Lotte Lenya and Eastern European folk music.
(…) So let’s talk about the music, then. The songs oscillate from tra-la-la chanson to brief explosions of terrifying skronk, hitting everything in between. Although sometimes flamboyant with mid-song tempo and time signature changes, Barbez don’t come across as mathy: they’re going for controlled chaos, not athletics. The impression is that of a century's worth of vinyl disintegrating in a cellar — Satie melting into The Stooges — then somehow willing itself back together. “The Defiant Bicycle”, the centerpiece of the album and most of their live performances, is a gorgeous suite that takes so much time to build that the listener’s masochistic response (per Masoch’s definition of masochism, as delayed pleasure) almost becomes a counterpoint. “Wisconsin” — songwriter and bandleader Dan Kaufman’s ode to his surprisingly prosaic birthplace — is the closest Barbez come to a traditional lied (via the Residents, perhaps).