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Music Review: Columbia indie rock band Barnwell harnesses raw energy on new EP

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Barnwell, “Everything’s Coming Up” (self-released)

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In rock music, perfection is the enemy. Few things throw off a good rock song like too much polish. There should be some sloppiness, some ragged edges, something that conjures up the garage instead of an expensive recording studio.

Barnwell displays such a shambling grace on “Everything’s Coming Up,” the Columbia quartet’s new EP. Singer/guitarist Tyler Gordon’s vocals are heavier on passion than precision. The rhythms don’t sound like they were played to a click track. The guitars are raw.

That’s not to say that the six songs here aren’t tight and melodic. But when the opening “Leave Home” lurches to life with grimy power chords and a loping, off-kilter beat, it’s refreshingly raw. And it’s so easy to get swept up in the soaring chorus that you might not notice the ambivalent vocal hook: “I could leave you home tonight.” Does Gordon mean that as a statement of trust or indifference?

The next song, “Wait,” starts off like another unkempt rocker before settling into a smooth mid-tempo groove accented by chunky rhythm guitar riffs on the verses, and the chorus bounces like “Document”-era R.E.M.

Indeed, late-’80s college rock is a touchstone on “Everything’s Coming Up.” The slow-burning rhythm on “Lag” has a dirge-like elegance that resembles Bob Mould’s early solo work, and Ross Swinson’s lyrical guitar lines on the verses of “Sudden Doom” bring to mind Robert Smith’s blurred, liquid leads on the later Cure albums.

Towards the end of “Everything’s Coming Up,” Barnwell stretches out a bit, exploring some near-psychedelic guitar tones on the spacy “Soon,” and closing things out with the moody “Cave,” which works some vintage-sounding synthesizer squiggles into the mix.

All of the songs on the album are enjoyable on a surface level, but as the album progresses, it becomes clear that Gordon’s lyrical tone isn’t as bright as the music. The smiley face sticker on the album cover seems ironic when he sings, “I know I feel like breaking teeth” on “Sudden Doom” or “You’re gonna cave before I do” on “Cave.”

His sweet-and-sour voice masks some of the anger, but the lyrics take dark turns on “Everything’s Coming Up.” Like the music’s purposefully rougher edges, it makes these songs cut a little more deeply.

The results aren’t perfect. But they’re good enough for rock ‘n’ roll.

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