Much like David Bowie,Janelle Monae, Prince and others, the Montreal, QC-based Jef Barbara uses androgyny to play with and blur gender lines and roles – and like those artists that preceded him, Barbara has an uncommonly delicate, strangely otherworldly sort of beauty that’s almost alien. His debut effort, employed elements of minimalist electronica and possessed sexually frank lyrics, and it gained him a following in his native Canada.
His (mostly) English 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 satirical sensibility. The album’s second single “Song for the Loveshy” captured 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.
“About singers,” the album’s opening track starts off the album with a slyly sardonic and extremely witty take on the pretenses of fame, adulation and performance – just showbiz as usual. “Singers are very popular/They play concerts all over the world/People pay large sums of money just to hear them purge/Young cats want to be remembered/They play it cool/like it don’t matter,” Barbara coos early in the song, and it paints a picture of the singer being ridiculous and phony, and living in a world that caters to their very whims. He then adds a line about how in a few years most singers won’t be remembered anyway. Ah, the fickleness of pop music and it’s fans.
Sonically, the song is a shimmering bit of New Wave-inspired, glam-rock inspired pop – guitars are fed through gentle bits of reverb, along with swirling electronics, creating a moody, trippy feel to the proceedings.
The official video shot on grainy 80s tape, seems quite fitting for a song that owes such a great debt to the 80s as well.