ALBUM REVIEW: The Barr Brothers – “Sleeping Operator”
After the Barr Brothers emerged with a sparkling début in 2011 of folk-pop gems crystallised with their trademark soothing vocal harmonies and unique orchestrations, the Canadian duo had no trouble winning over fans from David Letterman to the 40,000 that turned up to see them headline the Montreal Jazz Festival. However, a three year album break and a rumoured 40 songs having been written for Sleeping Operator with just 13 making the final cut, one may be inclined to infer whether the Brothers were tiring of their own song-writing in preparing the “difficult” second album.
Thankfully, the crashing cymbals, militant drum beat and weighty chord progressions of the rousing “Love Ain’t Enough” immediately announce the band’s intent for a sound that is altogether bigger on this record. This is a melancholic anthem their former touring buddies The National would be proud to call their own.
“Even the Darkness” has tongue twisting lyrical couplets that will knot themselves in your memory for weeks to come, leaving no dispute as to why it was chosen as lead-off single.
The late-period Lennon parallels to be found in “Come in the Water” again hints at The Barr Brothers’ capability for the long forgotten art of classic song-writing. It’s laid back drum patters and levitating organs arrive at a sudden rising chorus: “On the day that you were born, Legions lay down their arms, On the day you lost control, legions leapt for the throne” that is delivered with a tangential finesse reminiscent of key change in “Jealous Guy”.
Elsewhere the yawning slide guitars of “Wolves” are reminiscent of Ryan Adams’ country tinged alt-folk, along with the angelic harp glitters that take the listener all the way through to the soothing backing vocals that appear in album closer “Please Let Me Let It Go” that ensures a dreamy listen from start to finish.
And yet, herein lies Sleeping Operator’s only downfall. At times operations sound too weary for their own good.
The drab “How the Heroine Dies” and the plodding “England” are notable lulls in the record that almost see the Brothers steer the listener’s attention span off-course.
Fortunately, the can-rattling delta blues of “Half Crazy” and the “Dig a Pony” styled surprise guitar breaks of “The Bear at the Window” that pierce through its crisp twirling chimes, inject enough adrenaline to ensure the sandman won’t have gad too much time to pop his magic dust in your eyes.
By and large though, Sleeping Operator is a success. This is an album that ensures most listener will be able to,for the most part, share in the daydream The Barr Brothers’ have created on this record without having to drift to far off into the the land of nod.
Words: Thom Williams