Barrie Lindsay is a consummate producer in search of an ideological north star. In sound, the Boston-born, Brooklyn-based musician’s self-produced and self-recorded second album, Barbara, is lush and refreshingly unorthodox: harp and horn parts mingle with breakbeats, baroque synthwork, hazy vocal fragments, and warped, Alex G-style guitarwork. In a sea of avowedly traditionalist indie rock and barely veiled emo revival, it’s a refreshing palette cleanser. But as a whole, the record can feel vexingly incomplete, like a sumptuous oil painting whose foreground has been hastily sketched in. Lindsay’s sweet-but-vague lyricism rarely feels fueled by the same gonzo instinct that guides her deft production.
Barbara is Lindsay’s second album, but it might as well be her debut. Happy to Be Here, a 2019 album released under the same moniker, was actually the work of a five-piece band featuring Lindsay; the group disbanded in the time between that record’s release and the creation of this one. Though the project’s ethos remains the same—Barrie the band once said they aspired to make “a well-crafted pop song that’s a little bit fucked up”—Barbara clarifies the execution. Where the Jake Aron-co-produced Happy to Be Here was a collection of sync-friendly, ultimately forgettable indie pop, the most engaging moments on Barbara can be genuinely disorientating. On the best song, “Concrete,” mesmerizing, harpsichord-like synths arpeggiate and undulate as Lindsay sings about the “cowboy of the mind,” before the song hastily switches gears, eventually becoming a sleek, intriguingly austere dance track. The faintest hint of tabla surfaces here, Barrie’s multi-tracked vocal glides there—the whole thing feels mysterious and somehow out of time. “Basketball” takes a similar approach, allowing dubby vocals and an intermittent, footwork-like beat to float unmoored among an otherwise arid palette. Both songs deal with Lindsay taking control of her sense of self (“Come on, Barrie, do it right,” she sings on “Basketball”) and they’re the rare moments on Barbara where her lyricism is as vivid and impactful as the production itself.
For the most part, though, Lindsay’s songwriting on Barbara feels perfunctory. “Jersey” is all exposition (“I’m doing sprints on the lawn outside your place … Shouting ‘All magicians are liars’”) with a locus point that reveals nothing about its protagonist’s interiority: “I’m crying outside/I’m gonna crack the back step/Got some things on my mind.” Quippy one-liners that call out for revealing detail don’t arrive with the wit or sparkle that they probably should: “You keep on asking/My favorite song by the Doors/And I don’t care about Star Wars,” she sings on “Bully.” Lindsay writes simple lyrics and delivers them with a sweet, lilting cadence, qualities shared with songwriters like Helena Deland, Soccer Mommy, and Jay Som, but while those artists use the softness of their voices as a kind of comparative tool—Soccer Mommy and Deland each singing sweetly about abject nihilism—Lindsay’s lyricism rarely has an equivalent edge. Occasionally, the simplicity works. “Jenny” is a plainspoken, openhearted love song whose evocative scene-setting is counterbalanced by lyrics that articulate both the rush and the insecurity of new romance: “Jenny, I don’t know where to love from,” Lindsay sings. “Never had to hold myself true to someone.”