Album Review: Jef Barbara’s Soft to the touch

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Jef Barbara

Soft to the touch

Club Roll Music

Release Date: September 30, 2013

Track Listing

  1. About singers
  2. Soft to the touch
  3. Chords (Duet with Laetitia Sadier)
  4. Song for the Loveshy
  5. Credit D’amour
  6. Technic is fun
  7. I don’t know what’s going on but something’s coming on
  8. I know I’m late
  9. Erection
  10. Old gold and loose diamonds
  11. Amour ardent
  12. Florida is the future
  13. Amour ardent – reprise

Jef Barbara’s French language debut, The Contamination garnered quite a bit of attention for the Montreal, Quebec-based artist and his work across his native Canada. Much like David Bowie, Janelle Monae, Prince and others, Barbara uses androgyny to play with and blur gender lines and roles – and like those before him, Barbara has an uncommonly delicate, almost otherworldly sort of beauty. But it was his debut effort’s material, which employed elements of minimalist electronica and sexually frank lyrics that put Barbara on the map in his native Canada. Barbara’s (mostly) English language debut, Soft the touch was released on both sides of the border through Club Roll Records back in September – and it got a bit of attention from American blogs, thanks to two standout singles. “I know I’m late,” the album’s first single and video, owes a great debt to the slickly produced but stark minimalist electro pop of Gary Numan and New Order – think of Numan’s “Cars” or New Order’s “Blue Monday” – and much like their work, it has an infectious, danceable groove. But lyrically, the song’s target is the chronically tardy. We all know someone who’s chronically late – hell, in some cases, it’s us – and we’ve used or heard the same excuses, and it gives the song a playful satirical sensibility. And most of the album’s material maintains a sly, winking wit backed by a slickly produced, shimmering, New Wave sort of sound – angular guitars, sinuous bass lines, swirling electronics.

   For me, the album’s second single, “Song for the Loveshy” really managed to capture my heart. Sonically, it owes a debt to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, as well as the gorgeous ballads of the 60s – in particular, I think of someone like the great Roy Orbison. Yes, it’s probably the album’s most serious song but it describes a very modern sense of isolation and pervasive loneliness with a deep, empathetic sensitivity. When Barbara coos “Anytime you need a friend/I will be there…,” there’s this sense that the song is based on his own personal experiences. Overall, the song feels like the soundtrack to 3am-5am when it’s most likely to just be you and your lonely, regretful thoughts. Interestingly, in some way, Barbara reminds me a bit of Gordon Voidwell, in the sense that both use wit as part of their arsenal and that both should be a lot bigger than what they currently are – especially since they add an important nuance to the Black experience. In particular that of the gay and artistic urban Black experience, which you sadly hear about so rarely. Hopefully, the blogosphere will correct this and give attention to voices that desperately need to be heard.