Appears in Catalyst 2.72
They say the right book finds its way into the hands of the right reader at the right time. Much the same can be said about music, as Ali Barter’s new single, Far Away, found the right ears to nestle inside when it debuted on Triple J’s Home and Hosed.
You can always remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when a new song sends a surging current through your body and inspires the hairs on your skin to stand at attention. There’s an aura. An abstraction so indescribable yet deceptively tangible at the same time.
You can almost reach out and pluck it from the air.
After her highly touted EP, AB, dropped late last year, Barter has rode the wave of that success into the new year through an incubated period of escapism and self-discovery culminating in the Melbourne based artist’s most daring, formidable, and hauntingly fulfilling song.
A fractured guitar riff held together by peeled-back drums loops softly as it makes way for a soft vocal that almost ripples along shrouded in a perfunctory helplessness; the dark lyricism and angst-ridden mood contrasting the delicate tone of Barter’s voice and immersing the listener deep into the spiralling undercurrent of the song. Then in an instant the caged voice rattles ferociously behind steel bars and introduces the listener to a hook so fluid and catchy, it embeds itself deep inside one’s head the instant Barter declares she spends ‘too much money on coffee and cigarettes.’
There is a strained yearning in Barter’s voice when again that contrast manifests itself: a musician lamenting the demands requisite of burgeoning success, time wasted on freeways and incessant promoting—time which could be better spent in studio and crafting music, instead of pulling her far away from what makes comfortable. Her home. Her music.
A frantic bridge coalesces with Barter’s now incendiary vocals, distinguishing her from her contemporaries as her voice (Barter is classically trained) spreads its wings and takes flight in a painfully ethereal scream evincing the magnitude of Barter’s isolation. Everything shifts. There it is again. That contrast. Anchored by a stentorian bass line, it feels as if the song, Barter, the music, everything is being pulled down and drowning, lapped up in a maelstrom of loneliness, before a frenzied guitar solo eviscerates all shackles by elevating the song with its visceral composition that sounds like human tendons being plucked taught along the fret-board.
Then its over. Silence. Barely three minutes. It leaves you wanting more. You convince yourself the song could be extended, and perhaps it could, but a good songwriter always knows when to leave a party. The song doesn’t overstay its welcome. And for a moment I reflect on what I heard. The chaos, the anxiety, the tumult, the discordance, the softness, and of course the contrast. It’s a mess.
And I can’t stop playing it.
But most impelling is the axe work on the track. Adroitly oscillating between being sparse when it should to be, and confronting when it has to be, the guitar underpins everything and keeps the song buoyant—resulting in some of the most inspiring guitar work from an emerging artist in recent memory. The style is in and of itself, but a hinted comparison can be drawn between Tom Morello’s work with Audioslave and Mike McCready’s sprawling guitar work on Binaural: simple, yet textured and maniacal at the same time.
Having never heard of Ali Barter before, I was quick to plough through her catalogue of work (Barter has released three EPs: Trip, Community, and AB)—and there’s a surprise. The first thing you notice is her evolution as a songwriter, and how deftly she has thus far navigated the scene. Perhaps I may be giving too much credit here, but the progression in Barter’s song writing suggests a real intelligence and natural perception, that everything hitherto has gone to plan and been intentional.
With the success of a new artist almost resting exclusively on radio airplay, Barter’s early work ascribes to the debutante sound many artists use to get their foot in the door, but Barter gives a hint of peculiarity that sets her apart, though you’ll have to go searching to find it. In this landscape seemingly requiring artists to have a particular sound, where the shine of the spotlight is becoming increasingly ephemeral, Barter has carefully peeled back this veneer and gradually revealed the artist lurking the entire time—and there’s no sign she’s leaving any time soon.
Gratifying her original fans while quickly earning new ones, both vocally and musically she has found her voice. Hypercolour is evident of this progression. Far Away cements this.
And if this peeling back wasn’t a contrivance, if this demonstrative change is entirely incidental, either way both scenarios bode well: it suggests Barter’s song-writing is bound to get even more exciting, having already proven capable of striking the balance between being both structured and raw. She has control of her rhythm and understands how to construct a melody. How to make an impression. Barter does what is so difficult to do: Her music reels you in and you reel it in. Far Away has that magnetism. Labelling her music as indie/pop-rock, Barter has demonstrated in the last few months that her music extends beyond that. It’s rock and it’s blues and it’s alternative.
And as I reacquaint myself with that sound once more, dialling the volume up and sinking into the frenzy of my own volition, I get the feeling we may be witnessing the incipience of something big. Barter is quickly establishing herself as the real thing, leaving her contemporaries behind, far away.