For some reason I have been sick or rock n’ roll lately, at least in the traditional sense. I am sure it’s just a passing phase, but as of right now I am tired of predictable guitar riffs, fed up with catchy pop-inspired hooks, and if I hear another anthemic chorus I think I might stab myself in the ear with a fork. I’m not sure what brought this on; perhaps it is the amount of mediocre indie pop music that is flooding the airways or maybe it is Kevin’s annoying recent obsession with the new Art Brut album, but whatever the reason I need to take a break. As a result I have been exploring other areas of my music catalog this week, focusing mainly on experimental stuff that would best be categorized as noise and stripped down folk and Americana. Filling the folk niche for me lately has been the newest release from Barzin, called Notes To An Absent Lover. I’ve actually been a fan of this record for a while now, but for the last week or so it has really been hitting the spot. Unfortunately I am just a bit tardy getting around to reviewing it properly, given that the official release was two days ago, but I figured batter late than never.
Barzin is primarily the work of Canadian singer songwriter Barzin Hosseini who has been writing sad songs with a rotating group of musicians since sometime in 1995. On Notes To An Absent Lover, Hosseini has teamed up with Marshal Bureau, Robbie Grunwald, Nick Zubeck and Darren Wall to weave together a touching collection of songs about loneliness, lost love, and heartbreak. Though I would not call it a concept album by any means, Notes does stay true to a common theme throughout: he emotional pain resulting from a broken relationship. As you might imagine, this is not an album that takes you on an emotional roller coaster, instead staying a slow and somber course from start to finish. While this may make for a monotonous experience in most cases, here it maintains interest thanks to the beauty of the band’s orchestral arrangements and Hosseini’s earnest and heartfelt vocals.
Notes To An Absent Lover has drawn heavy comparisons to Bon Iver’s 2008 release For Emma, Forever Ago, and that is an easy comparison to make, though after a few listens it is much easier to feel a connection to Barzin’s work here. Where For Emma seems to create distance and solitude for the listener, Notes is a far more engaging album, lending to the listener almost feeling the sadness of the music rather than observing it from a distance. On the opener, “Nobody Told Me,” Hosseini sets the stage for the rest of the album when he sings “I had come to forget a pretty girl with auburn hair.” Moving forward to “Words Tangled In Blue,” the mood turns from sorrow to near-desperation, with soft snare drums and minimal piano work telling a tale of loneliness and despair before giving way to the hazy beauty of “Soft Summer Girls,” a song about remembering in order to forget and featuring one of my favorite lyrics on the album: “I’ve been reading your notes. Didn’t notice I’d forgotten the sound of your voice.” Following that is “Queen Jane,” which would otherwise be an ordinary song about longing to be with the one you love if it weren’t for the haunting, quivering vocals pushing it over the top in a bone-chilling way. At this point you likely have a good idea of what this album is all about so I will spare you from describing and quoting from every track, though there are a few standouts in the second half that are worth a mention. “Stayed Too Long In This Place” is a particularly touching track, beginning with an eerie slide guitar and transitioning to a weeping violin played to the track of Hosseini singing in tandem with a female background vocalist almost as though they are singing to each other from different times and places. Closer “The Dream Song” is another great track and an appropriate end to the album, channeling hints of Mark Linkous’ Sparklehorse to create an ethereal track that is so seductively depressing you can’t help but be touched by it.
Overall, Notes To An Absent Lover is one hell of a solid album from top to bottom. If you are a fan of Bon Iver, Spaklehorse, or Low I would say it is an absolute must-have for your collection. If you’re into down tempo folk, or just dig listening to sad songs, I would strongly recommend it to you as well. I would not advise listening to this if you are actually going through a breakup yourself though, unless you want to lay in bed and cry all day, which I suppose is cool if that’s what you’re into.