Cards on the table from the start: You need this album.
Remember my Geph reviews? Yes, of course you do! But as a reminder, I urge you to check them out (Geph & Apophenia). Geph’s Tyler Kent put me on to Patrick S. Barry and his album, ‘20. Patrick and I then had a brief Facebook chat, during which, probably in a mistaken attempt to hook me like a Phish/Fish (see what I did there?), he suggested that the album has “a lot of ’70s prog flavour”.
A wry smile crossed my face, and anyone who has read my reviews probably thought exactly what I was thinking: “He doesn’t know me at all, does he?”
Despite the somewhat transparent ploy to get me interested (I tease) and me being possibly the second-least-biggest-prog-fan-at-TPA, I agreed to spin it up on my hard drive and do words for it. This is those words.
Despite the obvious reference to this weird year, ’20 feels, at first, very much like the 1970s. Which is hugely ironic, don’t you think? This is sophisticated, highly polished soft rock of the kind that spilled out of Southern California in that decade. It’s an archetypal “American” album, yet paradoxically, hints of some of the more experimental British artists of that era, like Eno and 10cc. I hesitate to use the word “eclectic” because on first listen this isn’t a massively diverse collection of styles. Actually, I always hesitate to use the word “eclectic”.
The rather unkindly labelled “Yacht Rock” bands – a genre, Steely Dan fans tell me, that Steely Dan should not be grouped with – is a flavour of music I know all too little about. That was my big sister’s music. By now you should know that ‘reminded me of’ and ‘sounds like’ are not the same thing, nevertheless, Steely Dan fans wouldn’t enjoy me saying some of the songs on ’20 reminded me of the popular singles that Steely Dan are remembered for. So, I won’t (wink). Any comparison is a compliment – I’d never chuck an album by Yacht Rockers or Steely Dan off the record deck (ooh, decks, yachts… coincidence? Yes). I have nothing but respect for the perfection in the songwriting, performances and production on those old records. Pristine stuff. In ‘20, I believe Patrick pays affectionate homage to it all – and he does it extremely well, even down to the little subtleties, like the piano flourishes in Harlequinade.
And then, just when I think I have it all sussed, that I’m comfortable with it all and I’d run with the 1970s comparisons, there’s The Boys Who Broke Your Heart. This reminds me of the early 1980s solo work of Be-Bop Deluxe guitarist Bill Nelson and his EP Chimera – very much a product of the 1980s. Plus it has an Elvis Costello-ish Bontempi organ solo. Then Patrick hits us with Monkey’s Organ Grinder, which feels like the illegitimate lovechild of Devo and La Folie era Stranglers. There are even strong hints of XTC in Monkey’s Organ Grinder and again in Crackers & Coffee, yet all of these songs fit well with the other tracks.
My initial assessment was utterly oversimplified. Clearly there’s more to this than sounds and phrases from the seventies West Coast, albeit peppered with somewhat anachronistic, contemporary sounds. Before I read the credits from the Bandcamp page, my superficial observation was that the drums were either really well programmed plugins, or perhaps a Roland V-Drum set played by a human. The credits show that some tracks were indeed a real drummer. More evidence to blow my 1970s thingy even further out of the water; the drum machines on ‘20 sound akin to the now iconic Roland CR-78 drum machine, à la Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Enola Gay, Hall & Oates’s I Can’t Go For That, Phil Collins solo work and Genesis’s Duke, Peter Gabriel’s third album… the list goes on. All of these came after 1980.
The songs are actually relatively timeless, and possibly only the performance pigeonholes them as from any particular time or genre. I could imagine The Wonder Stuff, very much a ‘90s band, performing My Glass Saxophone, yet it would have sat equally comfortably amongst any of the songs on Billy Joel’s Glass Houses LP, albeit with the late Dave Greenfield on keys. That’s probably a reflection on the songwriting, rather than the instrumentation.
With sticking to a genre, there’s always the danger that you end up with a samey, silky, conveyor belt of homogenised songs. With ’20, Patrick has not fallen into that trap. Sprinkled over the songs here and there are little genre cameos, like Zappa-like backing vocals on Illusion of Choice, and other rather silky, polished vocal harmonies, reminiscent of Kansas! Hang on – aren’t they a Progressive Rock Band?
And if you like Kansas then you’ll like the harmonies and feel of Bubblegum Boy. This prog patina isn’t just a collection of “prog tropes”, much to my delight. I was unable to identify any vaguely altered bits of Apocalypse in 9/8 or similar such nonsense. I’d say that the “prog” element, if prog be needed, in the context of ’20 is the clearly defined segued segments, showing that the skills displayed on this recording also include arrangement.
The opening for Song For Henryk could have been lifted from a Jon & Vangelis album… BeBop-Deluxe, Kansas, 10cc (yes, 10cc are a progressive rock band – fight me), Phil Collins (maybe not Phil Collins), Jon & Vangelis? The clues were all there! There IS prog! It’s the absence of contrived prog-style rip-offs – I mean “inspiration”, the lack of strange meters or eBow – that initially bamboozled me.
I’m going to pre-empt criticism here by asking whether this sophisticated sound is contrived. Probably. Who cares? Just listening to ’20 I felt sophisticated by proxy! And I liked the feeling. Besides, the question is nonsensical, contrived sophistication?
I’m a man of a certain age, I’m supposed to like prog. But rather unkindly I lump prog fans together. I wrongly assume none of them like other music. Prog snobs most definitely exist, and are pretty vocal about it, but they’re the bad apples. I am puzzled by those people. I’m suspicious, because they’re lacking a sense of adventure and filling an absence of broad taste with familiarity. I like to avoid it, look forward.
‘20 makes me nostalgic for the music that people in the Sixth Form at school were listening to when I was 15. It reminds me of the music I was listening to when I was 19.
I am clearly quite wrong to dwell on similarities to particular genres or eras. ‘20 has more to it than that. ’20 is a nostalgic, not proggy album that is slightly proggy. If prog is what you’re into then, if that’s what you’re into, you should like this.
I believe that these songs should have a broad appeal. One foot in the seventies, one foot in the eighties, one in nineties… just how many temporal feet does Patrick have? Well-constructed, influences used as building blocks for something new. Did I mention the tunes? Yes. There are loads of tunes. Look, I have to stop now, or this review will be one of those TLDR reviews and that would defeat the object. I feel as if I found something valuable and I want to share it with you all. You absolutely need this album. Buy it for Christmas or something.
Favourite track? Under Summer’s Nose.
That is all.
01. Illusion of Choice (5:20)
02. My Glass Saxophone (2:54)
03. Song For Henryk (7:32)
04. Harlequinade (3:01)
05. Under Summer’s Nose (4:30)
06. Song in C (Sweet Validation) (4:32)
07. The Boys Who Broke Your Heart (3:48)
08. Monkey’s Organ Grinder (3:36)
09. Man Made Rivers (8:20)
10. Crackers & Coffee (4:01)
11. Bubblegum Boy (5:33)
12. 10 & 2 (4:04)
Total Time – 57:11
Patrick S. Barry – All Instruments, Vocals, Production, Writing, Engineering
Gina Monafo – Backing Vocals
Clinton Degan – Guitar Solo (on Song For Henryk)
Jim Schultz – Drums (on Under Summer’s Nose & Monkey’s Organ Grinder)
Bryan Murphy – Trumpet (on Song in C)
Adam Schneider – Guitar Solo (on Man Made Rivers)
Luke Gosselin – Saxophone (on Bubblegum Boy)
Nate Nemitz – Intro Audio Blurbery (on 10 & 2)
Brian Bradford – Intro Audio (to Illusion of Choice)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 18th December 2020