BAND: eric barao
reviewed by NADJA DEE
Musicians: Eric Barao (All instruments and vocals)
Matt Gilooly (Guitar)
Carlene Barous (Vocals, percussion)
Matthew Obadshian (Keyboards)
Ducky Carlisle (Drums)
Mike Viola (Vocals)
Matt Boynton (Bass)
Jeff Caglarcan (Baritone guitar)
Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Vocals)
Matthew Gilmette (Drums)
The Jae (Vocals)
Producers: Eric Barao
Recorded and Mixed: Ducky Carlisle
If you’re into Power Pop and you still don’t know the name ERIC BARAO, then give yourself a nun-worthy ruler tap. Just kidding, don’t do that! But maybe go eat some super sour candy or some Pop Rocks because you haven’t been paying attention and you need to wake up!
All kidding aside, the Massachusetts musician has a discography dating back to 2001 and his music has appeared on the Balls of Fury soundtrack, Turbocharged soundtrack, and he played piano and keys on the amazing L.E.O. album, Alpacas Orgling and his music continues to make the top album lists all over the world. (To name just a few). The guy is a powerhouse, schooled like the best musicians, Eric is a graduate of Berklee College of Music with a degree in songwriting.
So, when Eric contacted me asking if I knew who he was and if I had heard his newest release, Obsolete (EP), I not only knew who he was but was a longtime fan of his self-titled Eric Barao album in 2013, and I knew I was in for a treat.
What you don’t realize when listening to Eric Barao’s music is just how difficult it is to review. Eric is like the kid in your family that always gets an A+ in class. Meaning, there’s never a misstep in his music in my opinion. Every note is perfectly placed, every lyric sung with the exact right amount of passion and I sincerely wouldn’t change a thing about any solo track he’s ever released, including his session playing on other’s records.
But, therein lies the problem: how do you review the smart kid in the family? There's nowhere to go but up? Sure, if Eric were the C kid in the family, and he brought home a B, he would praised to the high heavens. But the grade A kid is expected to produce A’s.HOP ON POWER POP doesn’t give out music review grades, stars or ratings, but if we did, it's obvious what Obsolete would earn, with my only complaint being that it’s a 6 song EP as opposed to his last 10 song release. (Still 2 songs short of an EP).
I spoke to Eric about this album being a 6 song EP and not a long play, a growing trend I’m noticing from quite a lot of independent Power Pop bands. (Examples: Car City by Car City [9 tracks], Fat City Let’s Go! By The Tripwires [6 tracks], All The Time In The World by The Scheme [4 tracks] to name a few). He let me in that it costs around $1,000 per song. It’s maybe a little higher than most self funded, independent releases, but once you listen to the always high production level on Eric’s records you soon understand why it’s such a high bill. At that rate, I too would probably be releasing EPs if I was musically talented to his level. Selling rubber chickens pays the bills but it doesn’t give me twelve thousand extra dollars to spend on side projects.
But, let’s finally review the actual music on Obsolete.
The album was recorded and mixed by Grammy award-winning mixing engineer Ducky Carlisle. Obsolete starts with the song Nothing To See, lulling you in with strings and a heavenly choir. Then after 48 seconds of orchestral introduction it hits you with all the Power Pop goodness you come to expect from an Eric Barao album. Eric let me in on another secret, he did that in hopes that the listener would crank up the volume right from the start. I don’t know if this “trick” is going to work, but it shows you the depth that Eric puts into crafting his music. It reminded me of the gimmick that the great Orson Welles put into his magnum opus, Citizen Kane. It’s rumored that Mr. Welles placed
a painfully loud cockatoo jump screech in an attempt to WAKE UP the
viewer halfway into the movie. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a rather
effective technique. In any case, it takes me back to the time, at 6th
grade camp, when one of my classmates insisted that AC/DC records
need to be played loudly or it damages the vinyl. Power Pop also should be played loud and proud.
Nothing To See, is full of delicious melody and instantly singable lyrics. It strongly reminded me of another one of my music heroes, Jon Brion. Eric mentioned that he too is a fan of the great Jon Brion, or in his case, he’s more of a disciple as he actually makes music. Jon Brion’s influence is all over the song Obsolete (with vocals by Mike Viola) just as it was on his first release, the self-titled Eric Barao album with a song like Trying Too Hard, or the piano tinkled Alive (But barely breathing). That’s a good thing in my opinion. Anytime a musician can add a bit of Jon Brion to their music, it elevates their songs. I wish it happened more often to be honest, but not everyone can afford the highly sought after mellotron or chamberlain. All you have to do to prove my point is listen to the intro to Nothing To See or jump ahead to the tack piano sounding Bad for You.
Unhappy Ending starts off with a glorious guitar riff, laid down by Matt Gilooly and takes me by an Uber into the Big Star In The Street neighborhood, before turning into supersweet harmony drive.
Like I said, Eric Barao is an A student, a virtuoso of music, limited only by his musical direction. If Eric wanted to, he could make an album of only chiptune or visual key music that would kick some major booty, at least on a musical craftsmanship level.
So, that brings me to a style of music that Eric Barao seems to love, Clavichord music. It’s a style of music that was usually played on a keyboard instrument known as a Clavichord in the homes of the more affluent families, in the baroque and classical eras. But, it’s not the stuffy classical period pieces that Eric writes, far from it. He shows a bit of his naughty, playful side with a song like My Pussy-Puss, with vocals by Roger Joseph Manning Jr (Jellyfish, Beck, Imperial Drag, TV Eyes). You can even hear this same romantic throwback to the days of powdered wigs and white facepaint it in Bad for You, or in Alive (But barely breathing) from the previous album. Maybe Eric is a time traveller or a direct descendent from Mozart himself?
If Clavichord music isn’t to your taste, never fear, Obsolete ends with the deliciously Power Pop song New Lifestyle. A song that should cement his status as a Power Pop Superhero, if such a thing existed. (It should). Be sure to listen for the lovely George Harrison guitar part and I’d be surprised if you didn’t immediately press the replay button as soon as the song ends.
If you like both of Eric Barao’s solo efforts, then you’d be surprised to know that his previous band, The Cautions, sound nothing like them. Ok, there’s a hint of the amazing Power Pop that was to come, but I’d put The Cautions more into a hair band, rock category than I would the sweeter Power Pop genre. I went out and purchased a used copy of Proceed with...The Cautions. It’s a fun album, but like I said, it’s a lot heavier sounding and makes me think of a band like Van Halen more than it invokes The Beatles. Proceed with...The Cautions probably would’ve been a hit if it was released in the 80’s and not in the 2000’s.
My favorite track off of Proceed with...The Cautions album is Big Hit Song (Track #3). It’s a hilarious concept about a band that’s so big and popular now that they’re too cool to play their big hit song. Although it’s rather hard rocking, it’s still very fun and catchy and like my husband, the human recorder, you’ll be humming it long after the track ends.
So, that sums up my review of this great musician, this great new EP release and also uses up my one vote for the Power Pop Hall of Fame, (Although I'm not actually a committee member) Eric Barao is Power Pop Royalty or at least he should be. At the very least, let me say that Jon Brion is not meaningless and Eric Barao is certainly not obsolete.
In addition to music, Eric also builds guitar pedals, is a graphic designer, illustrator, web developer, video editor & sound engineer. He also enjoy painting, building things both electronic & mechanical, bowling & laughing. The guy is truly a Renaissance Man.
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DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
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The "scary bird scene" from Citizen Kane