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Don's Mobile Barbers - Boom Times!

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Artist: Don's Mobile Barbers

Album: Boom Times!

Label: Sorted

Review date: Feb. 9, 2006

Fuzzily melodic and listlessly melancholic, this third album from the Leicester bedroom pop duo known as Don's Mobile Barbers plies the same dreamy pop territory as Sophtmore Slump-era Grandaddy. (To name names, more than one song here will remind you specifically of "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot.") The disc is home-recorded with band members Mat Bartram and Rob Dobson playing multiple instruments, sometimes simultaneously, yet shows its humble origins more in eccentricity than any gaps in sound quality. The downbeat mood is set by the singing, as dreamlike and drifty as Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi, moving from sparse to epic in a smooth acceleration. A wisp of melody will pile gradually into cumulus clouds of reverbed choruses, building slowly on widely spaced, scale-mounting notes.

There's enough muscle in drums and electric guitars to save these songs from rainy-day slackerdom. For example, in the wonderful, "Standing Back, Facing Forward," the chorus starts minimally, "No matter how many times..." sung just to plinked out notes of glockenspiel. Still the phrase ends with a rock flourish, finishing "The pieces … just … don't … fit," in triumph, with drums pounding and guitars jangling.

The songs are, not surprisingly, mostly inward looking, dealing with relationships, stunted expectations and anomie, but from a self-referential perspective. This is the music from the outskirts of a prosperous society, where abundance befuddles and frustrates a search for personal meaning. The line "In these boom times / There's something I can't savor" is dropped into a song about loneliness, the caressingly gentle "See You In."

The disc takes time to sink in, as a whole and in its parts, so it makes sense that the two most affecting songs are also the longest. "He's Heading Back into Town" drifts into view on piano keys, its slow tempo reinforced by backpedaling drums and reverbed guitars. There's a miasmic swirl and mystery to this song, with its trembling synthesized strings and meditative verse, but it realizes its potential only in the lofty chorus. "Can't Get Away with Anything" also stirs to life gradually, self-describing lyrics opening with "Slow ... out of sync ... fuzzed out words in transmitters ..." then donning flesh suddenly in a synth break that turns into the most successful pop song on the disc.

There's a similarity to the melodies on Boom Times! that makes some of the songs blur together, and heavy use of home-recorded staples like drum machine and synthesizer that may eventually start to grate. Still, this is homemade music at its best, a reason to keep opening those unmarked CD-Rs that come in the mail, no matter how discouraging some of them can be.

By Jennifer Kelly

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