Plumbiferous Media

Notes to an Absent Lover – Barzin

Oct 18th 2009
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Notes to an Absent Lover - BarzinBarzin
Notes to an Absent Lover
Score: 52

Barzin, a Canadian indie group named after its main and founding member, Barzin Hosseini, was founded in 1995 as a solo project, adding three new members between its founding and the release of debut album Barzin. Relying upon a dreamy, folk-infused aesthetic, Barzin’s music has developed over the last fourteen years into a richer sound, culminating in Barzin’s newest album, Notes to an Absent Lover, which, though it suffers from a general lack of variation, demonstrates the creativity behind the group.

Although an occasional harmonica or cello will appear, Notes to an Absent Lover is otherwise exclusively performed by a fixed set of instruments. While this may have been helpful while recording the album by allowing Barzin to focus entirely on a single, simple set of instruments, the end result was simply to assist the album in establishing its extreme sameness. Not only do all the tracks of Notes to an Absent Lover carry roughly the same combination of instruments, but tracks additionally share tone quality, chord progressions, and phrasing, even as they attempt to remain unique by varying tempo and relative instrument dynamic levels. In fact, one of the only tracks that is truly different is “Look What Love Has Turned Us Into,” which uses drastically different instrumental harmony lines along with a pushing drum line that together manage to counteract the assimilatory effect of having tone qualities similar to every other track.

Hosseini’s vocals throughout Notes to an Absent Lover fit well with the melodic sound of Barzin’s music. Hosseini’s low, plaintive tones ring out through the album, an oddly confident sound and yet one which expertly evokes the emotion tightly wound around the album. As Hosseini tells the melancholy tales that occupy Notes to an Absent Lover, his investment in what he’s singing becomes eminently clear. Though Hosseini’s voice varies little over the album, slight variation in vocal style between tracks prevents his voice from becoming dull – though on a longer album, insufficient variation might have become a greater problem.

Lyrically, Notes to an Absent Lover covers the well-trodden territory of lost and unrequited love, but careful and creative writing prevents it from seeming clichéd. On some tracks, Hosseini crafts stories, like that which begins the album in “Nobody Told Me:” “I awoke / In a stranger’s house / I did not feel / Like myself / I had come / To forget / A pretty girl / With auburn hair / There’s no god in my blood / Yet she still remains” and on others, emotions like the wistfulness expressed in “The Dream Song:” “It was a simple dream I know / But it won’t go away.” However, though Notes to an Absent Lover is generally composed of good writing, a tendency towards repetition weakens it somewhat, preventing it from having the effect it should by all rights have.

The main, most apparent characteristic of Barzin’s sound is warmth. This warmth infects every single track: slow, melodic, drum-heavy, repetitive, and fast alike. Every track of Notes to an Absent Lover evokes relaxing, fuzzily pleasant images with lazy chords and clear, exceptionally deep drums, even as the lyrics follow the theme implied by the album title. And while this seemingly large contrast would generally weaken an album, Barzin manages to succeed in blending all aspects of the album well.

Unfortunately, this blending does not cease between neighboring tracks, or even tracks vaguely near each other. In fact, only one or two tracks on the album are easily distinguishable from the remaining mass of incredibly warm, solidly built sound. So while Notes to an Absent Lover is certainly a pleasant album, it is by no means musically diverse. In fact, one could very nearly replace Notes to an Absent Lover with any single (were one to be made) from the album, and lose very little content. In the end, what could have been a powerful album, given some more thought, remains simply mediocre.

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