Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Gary B and the Notions release a polarizing album of '50s-styled pop

March 12, 2010

So, while we’re in the spirit of full disclosure from yesterday, here’s another one. Gary Barrett, who is the Gary B of Gary B and the Notions, has written for Independent Clauses even more recently than Nate Williams has. Doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions about his record, but it does mean that they’re not totally sterilized. I mean, no one’s really objective these days. So passe.

Anyway. Gary B and the Notions just released New Twist and Shout, and it’s an incredibly appropriate title. Barrett has a strong affinity for ’50s pop, and he creates his own fractured and twisted version of it on this album. Barrett nicks the big pop swing and a chord progression straight out of 1954 in “Unannounced,” drops some creepy organ and oddly dissonant guitars over it,  and turns it loose onto the world. “Jenny” has a bit of a surf-pop vibe to it (although I’m pretty sure Brian Wilson and Co. never accused anyone of being “Motherf****** who want to dance and get out of control”). “Hall and Oates” has a bouncy pop feel to it, similar to the girl-pop of the era (anything-ettes).

If the subverted and repurposed ’50s songwriting doesn’t turn you off, Barrett’s vocals might. Barrett has what can be best described as a Northern drawl; he lets syllables hang a long time, sings odd vocal lines, and generally does whatever he wants. The tone is a bit nasal, but not so much that he doesn’t have low notes. It’s just enough to drive a listener crazy on repeated listens. It’s really unique, but it’s an acquired taste.

The highlights here are “Sally,” “Jenny” and the dark “New York Jet Set Trash,” which was exciting because it was different that the rest. The honky tonk of “Landscapes & Skylines” also stands out, providing a punch of energy toward the end of the album.

If you like the ’50s revisited and don’t mind Gary Barrett’s distinctive, unusual vocals, you will like New Twist and Shout. If either of those things don’t happen for you, it’ll be unlikely that you won’t enjoy this.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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