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Barrie Lindsay is the type of artist who is driven by precise visions of how music should sound. However, the 32-year old, soft-spoken, obsessive producer can be cerebral to a fault, prone to intellectualizing her emotions and self-consciously camouflaging herself in her songs.
On Barbara, Lindsay’s first ever self-produced album, and second under the moniker Barrie, she battled these self-censoring, self-protective instincts. The result is a beautifully peculiar and quietly ambitious collection of synth-pop, art-pop, indie rock and folk songs that reflect a new willingness to let listeners into her world.
Lindsay grew up tinkering with instruments in her bedroom in Ipswich, Massachusetts. “I’ve always craved big, layered sounds,” Lindsay says. After graduating from Wesleyan in 2012 with a degree in music, she formed her first band with her brother Jack Lindsay, a 5-piece group called Grammar.
She spent her 20’s quietly making music and working at a sculpture studio in Massachusetts until she was discovered on Soundcloud by a manager. He encouraged her to move to Brooklyn and introduced her to other musicians, with whom she formed a band. The first iteration of Barrie was a 5-piece who released their debut album Happy To Be Here in 2019, earning buzzy press, TV syncs and new fans around the globe. A month after Happy To Be Here’s release, the band announced they’d parted ways and Lindsay reintroduced Barrie as a solo project.
This decision coincided with two events that redefined Lindsay’s life and shaped Barbara. In the summer of 2019, she met her now-wife, the musician Gabby Smith of Gabby’s World, while they were on tour. Simultaneously, Lindsay’s father learned that his lung cancer had worsened. In January of 2020, she moved home to Ipswich to spend time with family and began working on her album. Three months became nine, thanks to the pandemic. Lindsay wrote Barbara while quarantining with Smith in Maine, while her father was dying and while she was falling in love.
“Barbara isn’t an album specifically about grief or love. It’s just an album where I let myself actually feel my emotions,” Lindsay says. “That was something I’d never done before in music.”
Lindsay didn’t listen to much music during the writing and recording of Barbara. And her genre-agnostic production makes classification difficult. She collected nearly a dozen instruments, including dulcimer, mandolin, clarinet, flute, cello, trumpet and her late grandmother’s harp to create the varied soundscapes on Barbara. She delights in manipulating their sounds beyond recognition, stretching them into vast, textured canvases.
Lindsay welcomes old listeners into her new world with “Jersey”. From there, she asks for listeners’ attention with, “Frankie,” a consideration of capitalism among skittering arpeggios. Political pop can be awkward, but Lindsay’s is subtle and poignant, reflecting on Glen Campbell’s classic “Wichita Lineman,” and Americans’ attitudes towards labor.
There’s an insupressable gentleness to everything Lindsay creates. She attributes this quality to a sound sensitivity that she inherited from her father. “Even when I think that I’m doing something really crazy or really harsh,” she says. “I play it for someone and they’re like ‘Oh, so mellow.’” But Lindsay agitates the melodic loveliness of her songs, with erratic production, contrasting warm and cold timbres, cheerful and grim moods. She distills anxiety on the fever dream of “Basketball,” whispering into smoggy synths, pins-and-needles guitars, and a frenetic drum machine. Similarly, her fantasy of a romantic but bloodied afternoon, “Quarry,” sounds eerie and aqueous, before erupting into a euphoric geyser of synth and drums.
Lindsay wrote, recorded, engineered and produced Barbara back to front herself, aside from drums on a few songs from her brother and musician Ben Lumsdaine, and additional backup vocals from Smith. Initially, she was determined to create the album 100% solo. She ended up with the most intimate collaborator possible. “I don’t know what this album would sound like if I hadn’t met Gabby,” Lindsay says. “I made this album pretty much just for us.” Smith executive produced Barbara, pushing Lindsay in her lyric-writing and providing feedback on production, arrangement, and creative direction.
Despite the grief, personal and collective on Lindsay’s mind while making Barbara, she often pauses to embrace joy. “Jenny,” is a simple, acoustic guitar ode to meeting Smith. On the dulcimer-fingerpicked “Bully,” she contrasts its prettiness with the cheeky, conversational lines, “You keep on asking my favorite song by The Doors / And I don’t care, I don’t care about Star Wars.”
Lyrics used to be an obstacle for Lindsay, who considers herself first and foremost a producer. In previous works, the already soft spoken artist would whisper her words and bury them in the mix. Barbara’s lyrics reflect new care and prominence in the songs. Take the song, “Harp 2,” in which Lindsay recalls a piece of parental advice, “You said, ‘You should try to be good, and if you can’t be careful,’” before wandering off into a reverie: “Baby I’m Napoleon, carving out my own region / I’m nothing to an alien.”
Lindsay didn’t initially plan to write about her father on Barbara. “Music is what I do for fun, to distract, to be happy,” she says. But reflecting on the kind of music she admires, she concluded: “Knowing that the song came from somewhere real is what makes it compelling. I had to figure out how to make the album meaningful to me, but also escapist.” Her answer was calling out both to her father and Smith on most songs on Barbara. “Those relationships bring up polar opposite emotions, but in the middle of the venn diagram is an overwhelming sense of desperation and intensity,” she says.
Lindsay finds catharsis from this ambivalent desperation in the album’s centerpiece, “Dig.” The vocals for Barrie’s last album were recorded in a studio apartment in Brooklyn, whispering so her neighbors wouldn’t hear. You can hear her newfound boldness in “Dig,” as she wails the song’s central refrain, giving herself over to emotion: “I can’t get enough of you / Where did you come from?”
The album’s finale, “Bloodline,” is the delicate antidote to the cacophony of “Dig.” The song starts out with a whisper over piano chords, as Lindsay reflects on the fragility of the body, as well as its capacity for bravery: “You got a scrape on the thigh / On the shin dried a bloodline / You go where the hunter goes, but you don’t have a gun.” It crescendos into an orchestral whirlpool of bass, harpsichord and a synth that envelops the listener, before the song abruptly drops off. Lindsay made the intro to “Bloodline” years ago. But it wasn’t until creating Barbara, she felt confident enough to complete it and put it out under her name. “I thought it was too heavy or too cerebral compared to what I’ve released,” she says. “These are the sounds I’ve had in my head for years. Now, I’m finally making them.”
Barbara is out March 25, 2022 via Winspear.