Steve Barton – Projector (2012)

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Steve Barton, who rose to college-radio fame with the Beatles-y new wave band Translator, scuffs up what has become a reliably sunny solo power pop sound on the new Projector.

The project started, at least thematically, with the death of Barton’s father Dan in 2009. Barton ended up at the home of Marvin Etzioni (formerly of Lone Justice), sorting through some tracks relating to that awful experience. By the time that night was over, he had played 18 songs, releasing a torrent of emotion. Etzioni suggested a solo album, and the pair set about recording and mixing the music that would become Projector, all in the span of about five days — and put it down straight to two-inch reel-to-reel tape, providing a gritty analog starkness.

But don’t get the impression that the resulting album is all melancholy gun-metal grayness — though, admittedly, there is some of that on the devastatingly gorgeous “Elegy in D Barton.”

Instead, tracks like “These 4 Walls” boast a series of low-fi lightning strikes: They simply crackle with bloody-knuckled riffs and overamplified vocals. “Pie in the Face” appropriates a rockabilly riff over the same blurred vocal technique. “Bowie Girl” — which has the same whip-smart attitude as Translator’s breakout 1982 tune “Everywhere That I’m Not” — doubles Barton’s voice, but keeps it slightly out of phase, giving the song a strange dissonance.

The results have all of the immediacy of a demo project, but with just enough post-production polish to provide a few tickles of surprise.

Barton circles back to the pain of losing his father on “Super Fantastic Guy,” initially admitting: “If I say any more, I’ll cry.” That he does, that he must, makes for one of the more compelling moments on Projector. By the time he gets to the album-closing “Cut the Rope,” though, he seems not only to have come to terms with his loss — but to have found a way to imagine them together once more, somewhere down the road.

Once again, Barton strikes that difficult balance — between sadness and light, between letting go and holding on to something forever and ever. And he gets it just right.

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