As a music blogger, I’m exposed to a continuous supply of new tunes by scores of musicians, and it’s always refreshing to discover an artist or band with a unique sound that sets them apart from the crowd. London-based indie outfit Oli Barton & the Movement is such a band. With a winning combination of talent, creativity and personality, their eccentric style of alternative rock is a crazy-good mix of post-punk and psychedelia, fortified with touches of funk, grunge and pop. They employ all sorts of instruments, sounds and textures to create music that’s original and unconventional, and their direct, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are delivered with an abundance of irony and humor. I love those lyrics so much that I’ll be quoting them heavily throughout this review.
The five member band is headed by Oli Barton, who does the majority of the songwriting, plays guitar and sings lead vocals. The ridiculously talented musicians helping Barton bring his songs to life include Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on Rhythm Guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Guy Monk on Drums.
They released their debut single “Photograph” through Coke & Dagger Records in late 2016, followed by “Sleeping With the Enemy” in April 2017 (which I reviewed) and “Kinky” at the end of June. On August 11 they dropped their first full album Into the Back Room, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. Most the of album’s nine original tracks address subjects of duplicity and betrayal, whether it be in romantic entanglements, personal relationships or politics. In a terrific interview with Rebecca Singer for her blog Read Between the Lines, which you can read here, band front man Oli Barton explained: “‘The Back Room’ to me is that place where you lock away all those things you’re not supposed to think about or talk about. I felt like I was locked in there for a long time.”
The psychedelic album opener “Cold Call” arrives with distorted strings that have an effect on the ears quite similar to nails on a chalkboard, conveying a sense of impending menace. Then a heavy bass line enters, along with a hypnotic drum beat and gritty guitars, those tormented strings still audible in the background. At one point, we’re even treated to a bit of cow bell. The chorus has a carnival vibe as Barton laments: “There’s a cold call to your name. There’s a cold call and it’s just a game. There’s a cold call and no one’s to blame. Let me hear you breathe.” The reverberated guitar plucks at the end are a nice closer.
Next up is my absolute favorite track “Kinky,” an exuberant ball of fire that’s amazing on so many levels. It starts off with a little guitar lick, then an irresistible Spanish guitar riff takes over as Barton sings the hilarious ironic lyrics about a naughty girl in a co-dependent abusive relationship:
Oh I saw you, saw you in the playground
And I saw your boyfriend, I saw him push you down
Doesn’t it hurt when he pulls your hair?
Doesn’t it hurt when he beats ya there?
The music suddenly erupts with heavy percussion and surf rock guitar riffs as he belts out the racy chorus:
But you’re ki-i-i-inky You’re ki-i-i-inky
You’re ki-i-i-inky You’re ki-i-i-inky
Afterwards, a funny munchkin-like voice can be heard in the background singing “Yeah, you’re kinky baby.” The verses continue with a delirious mix of Spanish and surf rock guitars, then we’re treated to some lovely strings in the bridge before a frenzy of distorted guitars and Barton’s out-of-control vocals return for the rest of the song. Barton is clearly having fun on this wild track, as he can be heard laughing at the end. For me, it’s a blast from start to finish every single time I hear it.
The upbeat tempo belies a decidedly unhappy situation on “How Would I Know?” The song addresses the frustrations of a schoolboy that the girl he used to go with is now seeing another guy. With much exasperation, Barton implores”But are you happy? ‘Cause you don’t look like you’re getting enough to me. Yeah, did I ever leave you feeling needy? How would I know?” I love the jangly guitars and Barton’s fervent vocals that are delivered with his charming British accent. (I’m one of those crazy Americans who would enjoy hearing someone with a strong British accent read the phone book.)
To an ominous heavy rumble announcing the threat of something very bad at the beginning of “Photograph,” Barton warns us that “This is where it’s gets a little darker.” Indeed it does, as crushing bass, layers of shredded and distorted guitars, and furious crashing cymbals lend a dismal vibe. With bitterness in his voice, Barton confronts his once-girlfriend of her betrayal:
I thought I saw you in a photograph
You looked so good, yeah you were having a laugh
I though I saw you in a photograph
But who was he? ‘Cause he sure ain’t me, yeah he sure ain’t me
The hard-hitting psychedelic “Sleeping With the Enemy” takes on rampant duplicity in politics that seems to leave people feeling like they’ve been screwed, and the biting lyrics get right to the point:
And I know what it’s like, to be stabbed in the back with a knife
It’s just my life, and I’d better learn to take it from behind
Sleeping with the enemy. Denied any sympathy
Sincerity will soon erode, when you’ve got nowhere to go
Musically, the song alternates between an aggressive, fast-paced beat and a slower, almost hypnotic cadence. The instrumentals are awesome, and Barton’s fervent vocals convey his sense of powerlessness and exasperation with the state of things. At the bridge, it all builds to a cacophonous barrage of heavy buzzing bass, distored guitars, pounding drums and impassioned vocals. It’s a great song.
The bouncy “Waste of Time” touches on a relationship with someone who drives you completely crazy, but you just can’t quit them:
I seem to be a prisoner of war
She is the worst part of my day
I’m just a fool stuck in her way
Her skinny jeans just make me look like a whore
“Talk is Cheap” is a trippy little musical atomic bomb contained in just under four minutes. There’s so much going on: en eerie opening with music and vocals played backwards, strange spoken vocals “George the elephant like mastadons…”, loud industrial reverb sounds accompanied by screams that abruptly end with a slammed door. Next come mesmerizing plucked strings accompanied by a gently tapping drumbeat. Barton’s vocals enter with guitars, then the tempo ramps up with heavier guitars before calming down with added violins, then back up again in a frenzy of gnashing guitars, humming bass, thunderous drums and crashing cymbals.
The band takes a pensive turn with “Rebecca,” a bittersweet song about a woman with a troubled past who’s really good at heart, and deserves to be freed from her prison:
And while they talk about what you’ve done
They didn’t know that could be anyone
A poor young girl without a clue
There’s a story here that no one knew
A hauntingly beautiful piano is the dominant instrument on this track, and band friend Katie Mallinson provides soft echoed vocals as Rebecca.
A lovely mandolin introduces us to the languid “Coming Back for Nothing,” then a sharply strummed melodic guitar and a captivating echoed chorus ensue. It sounds like the kind of song that could have been done by Paul McCartney & Wings back in their heyday. Lyrically, it speaks to the singer’s depravity and how he screwed up his life:
Wishing I could be with a better one
I tried it off with your brother but we disagreed
But then I took the game to your mother
And she left me with nothing but dreams and some fucked-up disease
The album closes with a fantastic EDM remix of “Photograph.” This version has a great retro 80s feel that reminds me a bit of The Pet Shop Boys or even New Order. It’s not as dark as the slower original, but an interesting interpretation nonetheless.
Into the Back Room is a marvelous album, and an auspicious debut for Oli Barton & the Movement. Every track is fantastic and I love them all. Barton is an incredible wordsmith, and one of the most creative young artists I’ve come across since starting my blog more than two years ago. If they maintain the high calibre of music they’ve established with this album, they have a very promising future. Barton says he’s already written songs for their next couple of albums and I eagerly await them!