In 2019, amid cresting hype, the Brooklyn psychedelic dream-pop band Barrie released their debut album, Happy to Be Here, and then just a month later, Barrie was a solo project. Not that the group split on bad terms: Frontperson Barrie Lindsay, the band’s namesake, made a guest appearance on the 2021 album from Psymon Spine, a band that includes two former Barrie members. The problem was more that, as Lindsay said in late 2019, “we kind of all wanted different things out of [the band].”
On Barbara, her first Barrie solo album (the title of which is, fittingly, her birth name), she hits the reset button. Barrie is now a glistening, confident synth-pop act with tinges of folk, and the warm yet tentative hue that clouded Happy to Be Here is mostly gone. The shift is fitting: Lindsay’s newest songs are about gleefully growing into new love at the same time as losing a parent. Even without overtly referencing her grief, she paints a compelling picture of the joy and challenges that come from everything changing at once. With just her and her wife Gabby Smith (of Gabby’s World) behind the boards, Barrie has never sounded more intimate and alive.
Almost everything on Barbara arrives in full clarity and with full intention: Synths clatter and chirp, the volume and percussion swell halfway through songs, and Lindsay’s lyrics so vividly detail past events you can see and feel them for yourself. “Dripping blood from your foot at the quarry / Hit bottom and you stay just to scare me / Shouting naked at the rock up above you / Baby, I love you,” Lindsay sings on “Quarry” as warbly synths rush from the previously compressed arrangement like geysers. The scene is clear and detailed, and the doe-eyed music uplifts the excitement of the mundane yet profound moment you realize you’ve fallen for someone.
It’s easy to read the titular character of the folky reflection “Jenny” as Smith when Lindsay describes an underwater embrace like something out of an artful 2010s coming-of-age film. “Jenny, I don’t know where to love from,” she later confesses amid acoustic guitars that sound like being so transfixed you can’t act on it: True love, she admits, can be scary. It’s a moment that feels in conversation with the quiet rush of “Basketball,” where digital percussion that sounds like jogging inside a tin can conjures the titular game and the anxiety Barrie sings about. “Come on, Barrie, do it right,” she tells herself: All she needs is a push to put herself out there for the person she loves. When the drums gorgeously explode into full power during the song’s final minute, you know she’s finally gotten there.
Barbara’s most enticing moments burst at the seams just as intensely. Highlights “Frankie” and “Dig,” co-released months before Lindsay announced the album, represent the two different poles of this explosiveness. “Frankie” is a rattling soundscape of shaking, icy synths and ballistic percussion that evokes Smith’s “Broken Necks.” It’s so full-throttle that the out-of-nowhere references to Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and the New Deal don’t incite the whiplash they might on one of the full-band Barrie’s hazier songs. The music conveys the excitement of a new romance, but the lyrics point to the early challenges of the relationship: “Can’t break even but can’t complain.”
By comparison, on “Dig,” Lindsay points all her arrows toward head-over-heels love. “I can’t get enough of you!” she shouts ecstatically on the chorus; the music sounds like All Hour Cymbals refracted through a campfire song and twisted into a shouting match. It’s viscerally beautiful, and Lindsay needs none of the album’s near-ubiquitous synths to make her point: When you take a swing at love and get there, the joy is worth all the roadblocks that preceded it.
Rarely does Barbara falter in any one song. If anything, its most imposing quality is its overabundance of ideas. Between the electronic and acoustic extremes of “Frankie” and “Dig” come piano ballads like the crushing closer “Bloodline” and the underwater folk-pop of “Harp 2”; the excellent songs drown out the merely good ones given the carousel of sounds. In that way, Barbara resembles the journey between meeting someone new and falling in love: As you’re first getting to know someone, it’s easy to pivot from excitement to worry and back again, visiting all sorts of emotional destinations along the way. On Barbara, Lindsay touches on every point of the journey and sounds more whole than ever before.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes he just sits. Oh, and sometimes he critiques, too. Follow him on Twitter and find his writing at Pitchfork, The A.V. Club, MTV News, FLOOD, The Creative Independent and, of course, here at Paste.