By Maxwell Tsetsakis
Minnesota progressive-folk band Barbaro’s newest release, About The Winter (released Oct. 20), has charming instrumentals, swelling soundscapes, and grasping vocals. Producer Brian Joseph, best known for his work with Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens, helped craft this record, which makes sense when you listen to this album’s grandiose moments. However, band members Rachel Calvert, Kyle Shelstad and Jason Wells made it easy with expert musicianship. The synergy of an experienced producer and hardworking musicians makes for albums like these, with almost no lowlights.
The album’s artwork, The Hunters in the Snow, is from Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel The Elder. As a self-described “coming of age” album for the band, it’s fitting a Renaissance painting adorns the cover. It’s as if the band is going through a rebirth themselves, finding new ways to define their sound. Winter perfectly represents this, when the previous season’s life dies away in the cold, waiting to emerge again for another year. About The Winter is about change, and even though the cold is brutal and unforgiving, life constantly reemerges as if it never happened.
The opener, “Apples to Apples,” is a slow starter and my least favorite track of the album, but the tracks “Gardens” and “The Lil Sweaters” quickly make up the slack and really set the pace for the album. “Gardens” showcases a touch of Sufjan Stevens with poppy, melodic progressions made up of plucky banjos and bells. “The Lil Sweaters” highlights the band’s Americana side, featuring droning violins and dreary yet optimistic lyrics. The middle tracks on this album are all great, “Subtle Hints” starts steady, then breaks down into a sparse ambiance with Rachel Calvert’s heavenly vocals filling in the space. “Honey, for” has an excellent rhythmic profile sure to make you stomp your feet, while “One X One” starts with more powerful vocals from Calvert then evolves into a somber violin solo.
My favorite section of this album is, by far, the closing tracks. From the groovy bassline of the 7-minute masterpiece “Subpoena Colada” to the powerful lyric “This ain’t the best that you’ve ever had” on “All My Friends,” all of the closing tracks gave me goosebumps. The closer of the album “Ike’s Farewell” is an ecstatic curveball, transitioning from soft folk to foot-stomping bluegrass. Even though the song has no lyrics, it’s my favorite track on the album. I adore the intro, where it sounds like you’re walking into your truck and turning onto the local country station, ready to venture to who knows where. The banjo playing on this track is absolutely outstanding as well.
I am excited to see what Barbaro comes up with next; as someone who enjoys heavier music, when a softer acoustic album catches my attention, it’s noteworthy. I enjoyed almost every minute of this album, and I’m excited to have an album to rely on when I drive up to the mountains. I’d give this album a 9/10, only taking a point off due to the slow start of the album, but for a sophomore album, Barbaro should pat themselves on the back for what they’ve accomplished.