Review: Mister Barrington – II

Matt O’Donnell
Managing Editor

At the beginning of 2011, then-Roots bassist Owen Biddle, along with keyboard wizard Oli Rockberger and drum machine (you know, but not really) Zach Danziger released the self-titled Mister Barrington debut. While there wasn’t a whole lot of over-the-top promotion, some people froze for a second. The innovation combined with the pure magic these guys were capturing was undeniable, and people are still, to this day, not understanding how it works to begin with!

Owen has been quoted as saying that the simplest way to categorize Mister Barrington is “jazzy R&B electronica”. He has also said that his approach is that he plays what he would if he followed his first impulse and no one was looking over his shoulder.

After the success among music diggers of the first album, Mister Barrington returns with the aptly named II. II is essentially more of the same from the trio, but in a world where they stand out with virtually no peers, just plain more is a very good thing.

It’s worth noting that while the dominance of the Mister Barrington sound is thick orchestration (sometimes you’ve got to wonder how this is just 3 dudes!!) and musical attention to detail, I think that it’s very important to note that their lyrical content can be effective, catchy, and mantra-like. You’re not getting AABABCBB forms in the lyrics, but they’re integral to the songs they exist in. Really, it’s as though the vocals are just motifs used as another instrument in the mix than being something pronounced and out front. Only A Fool, the opening track breaks in with an upbeat dancy groove, before it flips the script to a half-time (ish) feel to bring in the actual meat of the song. All the while, useful vocal content makes its way seamlessly into all the sections.

Owen Biddle deserves insane credit for bringing a fresh approach to electric bass sound design. It’s a known fact that for a while now, pretty much everything that Biddle is the bassist for is going to be solid and impressive. What Mister Barrington helps him accomplish is expanding the way that the bass can operate in the sonic spectrum to a whole different galaxy. On a track like Leonard, for instance, the bass sits exactly in the middle of the mix. the barrage of keyboard sounds seem to float above everything, while the grove chugs on. Biddle’s bass (in a few synth octaves) is the melody, all while still being your traditional bass anchor.

Actually, it’s probably safe to say that all three members of Mister Barrington are defined by the dichotomy of their impeccable musicianship and their incredible sound design skills. Oli Rockberger is the prime example. Not only are his note choices incredible, his harmonic sense is tasteful and evolved. Juxtapose that against how he seems to use technological embellishments to essentially make each note “come to life”. That’s a great way to describe all of this. It just feels like the music is ALIVE!

A great Oli moment is in PRG, which opens with a section that sounds like a cassette tape being fast-forwarded. Most of these great sounds are post-cassette generation, so it’s kind of funny to have that be the thought to open this track. PRG then explodes into a straight up party groove. I’ve dropped this in a couple of DJ sets as of late, and people just plain get DOWN.

Of course, the rock of all this music is the extremely elastic time feel that Biddle and Zach Danziger cooperate on. This type of playing comes straight out of the J Dilla (RIP) school that was eventually brought to perfection in live playing by Pino Palladino. Barrington is totally next level beyond that. One of the important aspects of this sort of playing is how players that find this alternate dimension inside the groove are still keeping very much in mind where the beat is. I refer to it as elastic time because you can still willfully come closer to or further away from the beat, it’s not a fluke or a permanent manipulation. Some of II‘s best examples of this are in Landing and I Remember You. A little of this feel goes a long way, which is to say that the amount applied goes on forever!!

All in all, the musicians in Mister Barrington are living in a world apart. It’s a true amalgamation of lots of techniques and sounds that have been seeded over the past couple of decades coming to true fruition in the hands of players who grew up with it. Mister Barrington may very well be the future of the way people hear/develop/create music. I, for one, wouldn’t be torn up about this at all.

You can purchase II, along with Mister Barrington’s debut albums, on iTunes and Amazon.

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