Like the soundtrack to a dozen unmade indie dramedy film previews, I’m From Barcelona’s sophomore disc is packed with catchy pop melodies, quirky lyrics and enough tear-swelling, life-affirming choruses to overtake the most cynical of listeners. Packleader and frontman Emanuel Lundgren leads his 28 (!) band members through the indie-pop, kitchen-sink motions without ever devolving into chaotic festivity or arrhythmic posturing. Instead Lundgren and friends keep the arrangements surprisingly tight (not so surprising for fans of the group’s extremely listenable ’06 debut, Let Me Introduce My Friends) and consistently endearing with personal narratives that unravel like finely tuned short stories, replete with the sort of characters and events that inspire small moments of clarity and insight, never life-changing but frequently reassuring and comforting and bristling with woodwinds and chimes and charm.
The album is tonally darker than its predecessor (made especially clear via the grim album art) and begins with “Andy,” a stunning, down-tempo dirge about the titular character’s tribulations as an artiste resigned to the lonely, superficial fate of becoming a doted upon actress. I’m From Barcelona speaks as a singular unit offering, “We could use someone like you in our band,” through the medium of Lundgren’s saddened warble and a distant horn riff. The song elevates a moment of hurt and abandonment into a dusky chant. “Mingus” churns out an oscillating guitar line and fast-forward handclaps. Lundgren’s yearning, rainy-day vocal approach blasts into high gear as the onset of adulthood finds his narrator steadfastly implanted within adulthood clichés (having a four wheel drive, kids and a wife, etc…) and sorting out the most mundane aspects of adult-onset angst. “Ophelia” tells the story of two people so distanced from each other that their names never occupy the same verse. This pleasant negation leads Lundgren to a simple observation that says everything about the end of an unhappy relationship: “Ophelia had two cars / She’s driving away in one of them.” Poor Rafael is so unrepentant in his nihilism that he becomes as useless to Ophelia as the broken down car she never bothered to get fixed. “Gunhild” is a restrained lullaby strung out across snapping acoustic guitar strings, misplaced radio transmissions and a softly distorted percussion samples. Deadpan French diva Soko’s meandering voice underscores the listless, endless night futility of self-understanding, singing in a sigh, “It’s only water in your eyes / It’s only words out of my mouth.”
First single, “Paper Planes” allows the group to show its frothing, multi-personality arrangements and co-op indie pop sensibility as a drifting narrative examines the eccentric inhabitants of an apartment building at night: the failed attempts of an old man learning to play clarinet, the dead echoes of rerun television, the distant noise of sex upstairs. Lundgren and his bandmates see each personality as a separate instrument, all their private moments and feelings combining into an epic arrangement of unity through music, humanity as grand orchestra and it’s hard not to get swept up in the jubilant chaos of it all.
Favorite Track: “Paper Planes” and “Mingus”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.