The music marketeers of today would, I think, struggle to fully understand Brooklyn’s own Rock ‘n’ Roll choirboys Barkhouse. They are probably a bit too real for those who normally deal in imitation leather and faux attitudes, and the band’s new EP Neverdays shows no sign of any willingness to fake it.
They could round off the edges, and further refine guitarist/lead vocalist Will de Zengotitta’s literary line in rock lyricism. Jay Mort could learn to sing operatically, and drummer Olmo Tighe could rent more drums and bludgeon us all into submission. But they don’t seem to know the meaning of the word compromise.
Neverdays is the third EP from a tight little trio who really (really!) deserve time and space (and dough) to make a definitive album. As it is, they’ve steadily grown a loyal and attentive, if not affectionate following off the back of short, sharp extended plays. Previous outings have shown growth and diversity in the songs, but this one shows bared teeth.
The jagged guitar riff of the opening title track is like a sucker punch combination of CBGB jabs and knee-trembling Billy Joel uppercuts. It’s more sophisticated than post-punk throwback, but it still has all the confrontational intensity of bands like the Television. Will de Zengotitta’s voice comes emphatically drenched in feeling, and he’s not afraid to put it through the ringer.
Calendar signposts the shoreline that new wave might have reached if the bands had concentrated on the songs rather than the drugs. It has a Stones (circa Black and Blue) meets Blondie in the carpark vibe, but it contains more melodic intent than anything those veterans latterly produced. It’s driven along by a tightly squeezed little guitar idea suggestive of NYC drive-by funk without aping the form, and the throttle really opens up on a hi-octane refrain.
You might be asking around about now who writes decent rock ballads anymore, now that Springsteen’s gone country and Dylan sings Sinatra. Barkhouse take up the challenge on The Fever, and it has to be said that they have the tools in the box for the job. There is familiarity in the melodic hook, real passion in the vocals and an educated sureness about the dynamic of the song.
Salinas sees bass and keyboards colourist Jay Mort take up the lead vocal, and his delivery is authentic, if not idiosyncratic. It’s a substantial shift in tone and mood, but for all its savvy, laid-back beachcomber backbeat, it has the same deep roots in gutsy American music as the more upfront statements on Neverdays.
I remember back in 1977, when I sat pondering the wisdom of the term ‘new wave’ (yes I had that much time on my hands), and predicted that it wouldn’t be new for long. A self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.
So, let’s not suggest that Barkhouse represent any kind of wave, let’s just call what they do Real American Music. Music we all thought was no longer possible. Catch them now while the tide is high.