3 out of 5
Label: Brake Out Records
Produced by: Dave Sardy
Har-de-har, Easy Listening.
Latter-day, American / Def Barkmarket is heavy as heck, even if it maybe doesn’t fit the traditional model of hardcore rock. Sardy and crew’s compositions are so loud, and Sardy’s production so raw, that the stuff hits like a heavy-hitting thing. Gimmick was sort of the big, stylistic crossover point, maintaining early ‘market NOISE wrapped around and filtered through an angrier, grittier presentation (though thankfully not ditching the smart snark in the lyrics).
As you start to travel through Barkmarket’s earlier catalogue, the picture becomes murkier. Rooted in the NY trashy rawk scene, Sardy’s initial vocals were of a wild man, half mumbly, half screeched, and the songs were just as commonly Butthole Surfers-esque anti-music as they were legit rockers; there was much more of a seeming embrasure of spur-of-the-moment, as many tracks feel slapped together from feelings and riffs and not necessarily congealing into full-on compositions.
Subsequently, Easy Listening is very much marked by an unevenness, presenting some amazingly cracked rockers – opener Soul? is brilliant; Sonny is a fire-fueled wait-for-the-release slow-burn; closer You’ll Never Find evidence – even at this 8-track stage of the Bark sound – of Sardy’s intuitive ear for wowing production, layered and raw. But then there are plenty of curiosities that butt up against these more ‘formalized’ tracks somewhat uncomfortably, killing the album’s overall flow despite the songs being interesting in their own rights: The Puppetmaster’s quiet, warbly shuffle; foreign Places muted hip-hop beat. A lot of this suggests that what makes a good Barkmarket song is juxtaposition of loud and quiet, and when this is stripped down to instrumentals that just riff out around some samples and at a particular tone, momentum is lost.
Easy Listening is presumably a purposefully ironic title for a non-genre-conformist group, but even as a dedicated fan, the irony holds true, with the group staying focused for a handful of tracks – many front-loaded onto the disc, which isn’t a horrible thing – and then the other set of songs too loose to be effective in comparison, and very much feeling like demos or experiments as a result. The album is absolutely worth it for these “on” moments, though, and the otherwise moments are certainly interesting, they just don’t feel like they exactly belong to the same world.