Anton Barbeau is a wizardly multi-instrumentalist from Sacramento, best known for psychedelic rock and pop songs in the style of Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock or XTC. An international player, he lives his life between Oxford, Berlin and California, and has played with many UK and US artists including The Bevis Frond, Weezer and Mono. He collaborated on an album with Scott Miller’s Loud Family called What if it Works? and has released over thirty albums since his debut in 1994.
Manbird is his new double album / CD conceived two years ago and finally released on the eve of lockdown. Ironically, he has spent lockdown trapped in California while this brilliant, kaleidoscopic concept album concerns and embraces the world, with travel and ideas of belonging, home and community expressed both metaphorically and literally within.
The constant travel through airports and through transatlantic air has led Anton to call himself the Manbird, the Savage Beak soothed by music and the relentless traveller. The title track declares this, as he moves between lives while contemplating his past and his present situations and goals. Extraordinarily apt for these times, yet entirely created outside of our current circumstance, the album takes in an astonishing variety of styles, from concept rock, to punk, electronic sounds, more ambient and psychedelic approaches and multi-tracked choral work. Anton clearly has or has access to an impressive range of vintage synths and instruments, and employs them to great effect.
Field recordings of birds outside his house or on his travels are used, as those birds’ migrations and homecomings mirror his own travels. These begin with his initial reluctance to leave his hometown, addressed in “Across the Drama Pond”, a response to Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife” in which Anton declares himself to be one of those new-wave boys. His boyhood is addressed in “Cowboy John”, his first written song, recorded here with Greensleeve’s melody appropriated. “Memory Tone” is about the power of music to trigger memories as well as set them. “Fear of Flying” is about fears not just about physically moving in the air but psychically moving away and towards the known and unknown respectively. Every song is in a different style and idiom, with punk fading into new age, and folk tinged songs sitting alongside tracks that Pink Floyd might have put out.
Anton has used a stunning array of collaborators for the album, drawn from his Sacramento music scene, of note is Michael Urbano’s drum work especially on the superb opening and title track, and the reworked version towards the end, called the Oxford version, recorded as a love letter to one of many home towns.
Manbird comes as a double CD, beautifully packaged with a fold out poster including lyrics, photos and information. You also get the digital download which bought on pre-order includes a bonus album of out-takes and alternate versions called Manbride, worth a listen of itself. I recommend it as essential to any fan of power pop and psychedelic rock with head and heart entwined.
The video for opening track Manbird is here
Buy the album Manbird Bandcamp here