Album Review: Anton Barbeau – Morgenmusik/Nachtschlager

Some things in life are a sure thing. One of those is the fact that Anton Barbeau can be counted on to produce fascinating and worthwhile music. His latest release, the double set Morgenmusik / Nachtschlager does nothing to change that fact. What sets it apart – if just a bit – from his body of work as a whole, is that it leans toward the more accessible end of his work. While Barbeau’s talents are such that he’s equally at home making (if you will) quirky albums as he is making irresistibly tuneful creations, on this project he displays more of the latter. And while both are indisputably worthwhile, righthereandright now feels decidedly like the time and place for the ear candy.

Moregenmusik opens with a pair of bouquets for the aural appendages. “Waiting on the Radio” is truth in labeling: it’s so catchy that it belongs on the airwaves, a place where the world can hear it. “Bop” is built around a memorable phrase, a sturdy lick and a splashy drum figure.

From there, Morgenmusik heads into a pair of suites, “Milk” and “Clean.” Each is a collection of multiple songs that fit together. The four tunes in the “Milk Suite” are a varied lot: “Milksnake” is a fetching minor-key tun, and “Maa” is Middle Eastern vocalisms. While its title might suggest some P-Funkism, “Mothership Projection” is a hypnotic dancefloor raver. “Gambit” is more solid, melodic pop, and Andy Metcalfe’s distinctive bass work — you’d recognize it – is all over it and several others besides.

Speaking (though we weren’t) of XTC, “Greasy,” the first in the “Clean Suite” sounds very much like that group, albeit with Ant’s trademark vocals out front. Charlotte tupman peels out a lovely solo, too. “Coming Clean” is a bit of melancholy set against a beautiful, uncluttered arrangement.

“Dog Go Zombie” is some lyrical weirdness weeded to a conventionally (in the best sense of the term) pop tune. “Gabay D’Lito” probably means something profound in whatever language it’s in; either way it’s a delightful tune. “I Demand a Dream” is an ace Barbeau-style take on mid-’60s freakbeat/proto-power pop/whatever. “Circustime Train” rocks, with a vaguely ELO character to it. The quick, multilayered “Hindi Morgen” closes the album in Sell Out style.

And that’s only the half of it! Nachschlager translates literally “night hit,” but in Germany, a schlager is a particularly kitschy sort of melody, something that Barbeau’s music is not). “Chrono Optik” is a bit of meccanik dancing, as it were. “Beautiful Look” is some irresistible dance-rock with crunchy guitar. “Dumb Thumping” draws from the varied character of Barbeau’s last few albums, most notably those krautrock leaning ones.

“Kottbusser Blues” isn’t nearly as teutonic as its title suggests; it’s a languid, tune reminiscent of “I’m So Tired.” Intentionally stiff electronic drums inform “What Did the Operator Say?” The album features a number of brief interstitial sonic pieces that showcase Ant’s quirky side. They’re pretty amusing, too.

“Ding Dong (Wake Up)” synthesizes all of Barbeau’s musical virtues into the space of three and a half minutes Which, as it happens, is (with an exception to which we’ll get presently) about as long as any of the tunes on these albums gets. On this double set, Barbeau distills his musical ideas down to readily digestible bits. He packs a lot into each tune, too.

“Pull the Veil Away” is moody, vaguely baroque pop-rock. “Come Back” is a slice of early ‘80s nostalgia, Ant-meets-Cars style. “Nachtschlager” is tough to describe: it features a martial beat and some fascinating sounds (including squalling guitar) worked into the mix. And it’s way better than that description might suggest.

The brief “Cranking Em Out” could be Anton Barbeau’s theme, so prolific an artist is he. The album closes with an outlier: the six-minutes-plus “Help Yourself to a Biscuit.” It’s as close to progressive rock as Ant gets on this set, journeying through multiple musical passages. It’s an unlikely way to end an album of tidy tunes, but it works.

Barbeau’s latest is filled with guest appearances: Metcalfe, Colin Moulding, Charlie Crabtree, Peter Daltrey, Allyson Seconds, Donald Ross Skinner, Michael Urbano, Chris Stamey, Larry Tagg and other pals drop by to help. But unexpectedly and with few exceptions, what they add fits so seamlessly into the album that you might not even notice it’s them.

Morgenmusik / Nachtschlager is, finally, a lot to take in. But it’s well worth whatever effort that might require.

And when you’re ready for more — as you surely will be — check these out.