I experienced my first taste of Ben Barnett on April 25, 2003. He was playing guitar for the Thermals, which had formed a year earlier and on that night was opening for Yeah Yeah Yeahs
in Seattle. I didn't know who Barnett was at the time, but I lucidly
recall standing right in front of the venue's stage and watching in awe
as he shredded the hell out of a guitar faster than anyone I'd seen
wasn't until watching him perform as Kind of Like Spitting a year later
that I recognized his face and energy and eventually put two and two
together. I was later told that he was paid $200 for the night's set
and that he'd been sleeping on his ex-girlfriend's couch for the time
being, which seemed a reasonable explanation for his spontaneous, DIY
style. Always one to avoid an artist best described as "the epitome of
emo," I still hadn't bothered to listen to a Kind of Like Spitting
record but was now lured in; Barnett's live persona recalled the
intensity of Billy Bragg far more than any broken-hearted songwriter
from the Northwest. And so my ideal image of him ensued.
I hadn't realized while getting to know Barnett's music was that he'd
recorded four albums in 2000 and would release three more over the next
six years. One Hundred Dollar Room was one of those
first four, and while its place in such an impressive collection is
admirable, I glumly discovered that Kind of Like Spitting translates
too well live to hold up on a recording.
It's daring of Hush to re-release this "early" record only a month prior to Redder's February 2006 release of The Thrill of the Hunt and two months after the In the Red EP, the latter of which actually contains some raw acoustic gems. One Hundred Dollar Room
merely represents the Northwest's bleak outlook, multiplies the Eeyore
factor by adding guest vocalists like Corrina Repp, and addresses
Barnett's physical core with "Hey Mr. Heart, don't you know/ without
the right food to grow/ you won't break the soil come summer"
("Scene"). There is a bit of an energy shift to the album's advantage
come the dissonant but poppy "Yes, You're Busted," which addresses the
phoniness of scenesters who find solace in supposedly personal music.
But save for this standout, One Hundred Dollar Room essentially acts as Barnett's chance to weep a sheet of rain over his fans' heads.
watching Barnett live is like pretending Billy Bragg is more accessible
than reality permits, and if there's any part of this record to
revisit, it's Barnett's cover of Bragg's "Little Time Bomb" (from
1988's Workers Playtime), the smartest way to end this
album. Barnett may lack Bragg's British charm or authentic punk spirit,
but he's got the same heart and voice of a working-class believer who
could certainly let his sense of authority develop with time and
experience, if only he'd let it. Ironically, his version is slower and
more stripped down than the original, but Barnett's got a grasp on the
energy it takes to passionately deliver, and that's what ultimately
begins to redeem the entire record. Almost.
"One Bird, One Stone" MP3 (Right Click Save As)
"Aubergine" MP3 (from In the Red) (Right Click Save As)
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