Try to forget how the music of Barbez is made. Sure, the avant-carnie instrumentation on the Brooklyn band’s third album is distinct, but the act of combining marimba, theremin and a modified Palm Pilot with a standard rock lineup isn’t nearly as important as how those instruments frame and deepen the claustrophobia of guitarist Dan Kaufman’s songs.
Sounding like a far more austere Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Barbez dispenses its moody art rock with a Weimar-era cabaret sensibility and an ear toward eastern European folk traditions. In addition to Kaufman’s originals, the band offers its take on two Russian folk songs as well as a stunning cover of Brecht/Eisler’s “Song of the Moldau,” featuring the Lonesome Organist. Elaborately arranged as they are, pieces such as “Fear of Commitment” and especially the eleven-minute “Pain” seem ready to disintegrate at any moment. Intricate guitar/theremin duets collapse into free-form marimba freak-outs, sing-songy sections give way to perverted tangos, and expat Russian vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina’s warbling moves from merely unhinged to psychotically violent.
Barbez pulls off a remarkable trick on Insignificance: cobbling together hundreds of years of pan-cultural musical detritus and still sounding wholly contemporary, wholly its own. It’s a deeply disturbing record, to be sure, but a riveting one, too.