Manbird – Anton Barbeau (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Shockingly good value for money…and a cracking album to boot! That would be the strapline if I worked in marketing. Perhaps it’s just as well that I don’t work in marketing. But a 25 track release has got to be seen as a pretty good deal and you can’t go to the pub in these locked down times so surely purchasing even more cool music is required to get through that furlough pay packet.

Manbird is a collection of intertwined memories, experiences, thoughts and wistful reflections arrayed around a general theme of home, flying the nest, travelling the world and then finding and making new homes elsewhere. And so the cycle continues. And through this conceptAnton Barbeau threads analogies and allusions to birds and flight and travel and exploration, blurring the lines between man and nature. Indeed, even the title is inspired by the recent film Ladybird, itself a mussing on home and heart, family and flying solo, breaking free and looking back; much of which was filmed in Anton’s home city of Sacramento.

He describes the album as the sound of “me rubbing off on me, acting as my own influence,” and as such the album incorporates songs and ideas, thoughts and themes from across his whole life and 30 or so albums.

Those already familiar with Barbeausonics will find lots of their favourite sounds and styles here, power-pop energy, psychedelic trips, poise and pun, groove and grace, fantastic wordplay…”music soothes the savage beak” … hazy harmonics and tasteful melodics, old school integrity and new wave quirk. If you are new to this world, first of all …where have you been all this time? Secondly, please leave any expectations in the lockers provided. But if you are one of those people who needs some reassurance before committing, think XTC meets Robyn Hitchcock meets Julian Cope, though I think even the latter would baulk at the idea of splicing a nursery rhyme singalong with a reworking of Greensleeves. See?


The titular Manbird sets the scene before Across The Drama Pond sees him head out into the world via a buoyant and popping, globe trotting, bippity-bopping Ant-themic gem. Featherweight tips its hat at Motorhead…had they made a habit of covering The Gun Club….but quickly morphs into its own alt-pop-rock beast and Oh Dainty Beak feels like a lost Beatles’ ballad from Paul’s Ornithological period. Syd Barrett inspirations rise up through tracks like Under The Mushroom Tree, though I doubt anyone could write a song with such a title and not tap into the Madcap King and there is even room for an alternative run at the title track again, The Oxford Variation opting for a more ornate, baroque and chorally immersed finished article.

Anton Barbeau is one of those rare artists who has both high benchmarks and an impressive work rate, two often mutually exclusive traits, and Manbird shows that he is still able to walk that perfect line between control and chaos, between following the rules and writing your own How To… guide, between “what if? ” and “why not?” …between madness and genius! And long may he do so.

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