The war drums and Russian-gothic chanting at the onset of Barbez's Insignificance set a tone for angst-ridden and shifty-eyed scowling - all for the sake of art. This ethno-fueled band of Brooklynites isn't churning out the standard fare of Williamsburg avant-garde hipster shit. The plunking and wailing contained within is the result of trans-continental, accomplished musicians shedding academics to plunge head-long into more than just a little night music.
Vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina's guttural and alluring voice at once conjures the occult qualities of Siouxsie Sioux while adopting a traditional, Eastern European accent. Her bass-heavy bellow provides the perfect counter-weight to the twinkling procession of vibes, theremin, Palm Pilot and guitar that follows in her wake. "Fear of Commitment" snakes through moments of murky yearning before clusters of chaotic rhythm and percussion constrict with confusion and ever-blackening tension. And while songs like "A Melancholy Picnic" and the title track are bursting with textural spookiness and a supernatural timbre, there's a rock element underlying it all.
To label Barbez a chamber punk ensemble not only encompasses the point; it also overstates it. Fans of straightforward classical music won't find much appealing about Insignificance. Nor will enthusiasts of cut-and-dry punk and indie rock. Any and all sense of nihilism swelling up in these songs is eclipsed by a dark, Romantic resonance and a spirit of expression and experimentation that jumps these boundaries. Barbez's exchange of traditional and modern methods to push the music into compelling new territory is anything but insignificant.
Published by Flagpole Magazine (Oct. 2005)