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The View From The Face Zone
“Let It Grow: Album Review of Boy Interrupted from The Weed Garden”
By Martin Graff
Paul Barsom is a musician in the deepest sense: an eclectic listener, player of numerous instruments, music-tech guru, singer, and composer of orchestral scores and rock licks alike. It’s this wide-ranging relationship to sound that informs his indie-rock songwriting project, The Weed Garden. While this collection coheres around a common vibe—these are clearly lyrics and accompaniments built by the same artistic architect—there’s a refreshing degree of variety in the album, as well as an accessibility that sustains through even the more technical passages of Paul’s songcraft.
Instrumentally, these are guitar-based compositions with additional acoustic timbres, percussion, and electronic garnishing to expand the expressive palette along the way. The instrumentation choices are never arbitrary, always in service of the story being told. This is someone who, for many years, worked with orchestral ensembles now distilling that vast experience into tactful and affecting soundscapes within the more limited scope of songwriting. As Paul was initially a bassist, the album has some delicious “underneath music” that pops out from the texture at just the right moments. The guitar work is thoughtful too, negating the need for busy solos, instead favoring more programmatic landscapes to get lost in as you consider the words, which are as eclectic as Paul’s musical tastes, using autobiographical experiences, relationships, politics, and reflections on nature as catalysts for his lyrical poetry.
Vocally, Paul’s clean non-vibrato tenor fits snuggly into the sonic world he’s created, faithfully conveying the aesthetic and intellectual nature of his words. Though this album presents as indie rock, Paul channels the progressive-rock vocal style of bands like Yes and Porcupine Tree in their tone and mood, but here it combines with other creative devices that you wouldn’t hear in those bands.
The opener, “Your Move,” blends acoustic and electric guitar with modal harmony for a vibe reminiscent of 90s rock ballads by bands like Stone Temple Pilots as the lyrics express the chess-like maneuvering of a long-term intimate relationship.
“The Elect” calls out the destructive futility of grievance politics with a driving 4/4 guitar and drum riff that opens the track with the anthemic energy of The Clash and then settles into a more contrapuntal texture reminiscent of James Mercer’s work in The Shins.
The album takes a stylistic turn into country-folk with “The Plan,” featuring a slow, sweeping, longing vocal adjacent to the emotional twang of Band of Horses, as Paul’s poetry muses on the existential friction of a determined soul overwhelmed by the size and weight of the human condition.
“Bird and Cage” is about the sweet and sour of intimate commitment, an analogical theme and variations based on a text by the Persian poet, Rumi. In this composition, Paul beautifully articulates the inextricable mix of spiritual highs and mundane lows woven through marriage to a person or anything else to which we permanently commit. The music follows suit, lingering on harmonies that want to modulate but never do and, in the end, are content to remain in the key where they are. It’s a tentatively sunny expression of love and doubt that works, with a vocal tune reminiscent of Nick Drake’s upbeat melancholy.
Next, we travel to “The Desert” for a love story between a hiker and his landscape—a joyful trip into the vast, sandy imagery of a bone-dry terrain that quenches a spiritual thirst. Utilizing asymmetrical rhythmic phrases and restless harmonic movement, this track reminds me of no specific songwriting precedent, so this is a song where Paul’s idiosyncrasies as a composer really come out as we attend a chill but lively party in the Mojave.
“Anchors” is a portrait of a self-sabotaging character who finally embraces herself and, in doing so, becomes a juggernaut. Against the lyrics, the music is ironically upbeat, suggesting a positive spiritual answer that has been there all along. Its melodic and harmonic spryness, and (tasteful) use of bongos recall Paul Simon’s work.
“You Say You Say” is the closer and a personal favorite, my play-on-repeat track. The distant guitar tone, expansive reverb, yearning vocal, and entrancing repetition remind one of the dark and beautiful pull of shoegaze or Radiohead. The accompanying text is a landscape metaphor on managing depression as another day begins and the perpetual battle for sanity continues.
Or, so I say. That’s the thing about these lyrics and this music: they are relatable but original, just elusive enough to compel listeners to pour our subjectivity into the open interpretive spaces, making this trip into The Weed Garden worth taking as it invites us to find new and beautiful growth in unlikely places.
—Martin Graff is an artist, author, spoken-word performer, composer-pianist, and extreme-chin-beard enthusiast living in Northern Virginia. He imagines and illustrates faces—human, animal, alien, abstract—and adds poetic prose to associate with each. His live spoken-word show adds original piano compositions to heighten the experience.
From Fretbuzz, The Podcast
A Review of The Weed Garden’s Boy Interrupted
by Anthony Scaltz
Gorgeously crafted, The Weed Garden’s Boy Interrupted is full of stunning moments over thirty-five minutes of powerfully emotional ebb and flow. As the project’s composer and producer, Paul Barsom expertly invents a nuanced and layered sonicscape in order to nudge its listeners into contemplation, imagination, and wonder.
The record’s opening track “Your Move” sets the stage for a tapestry of tone and subtle musical surprises. The first two minutes establish a smooth and slippery groove as Barsom starts to build upon the cryptic lyrical symbolism and intriguing vocal harmonies that give weight and definition to the album as a whole. The intricacies of rhythmic structures, fluid vocal melodies, and sheer instrumental density found among Barsom’s tracks such as “The Elect” harken back to past giants in the rock genre: Yes, David Bowie, and The Beatles. Without a doubt, trained musicians will appreciate the perfect level of detail embedded in the mixes, while the pure lovers of song will smile as they encounter the recording’s many twists and turns. Tracks such as “The Desert” and “Anchors” hint at flavors found in World Music, while “Bird and Cage”, inspired by the works of Sufi poet Rūmī, brings a spirit of unassuming joy and grandeur to each metaphor, enriched by the pristine and crystalline guitars. By far, the album’s most alluring contribution is its finale, “You Say You Say”. Here, Barsom draws from his deep experience with organized sound and knowledge of compositional elements, incorporating lush delays and atmospherics, to create a network of tonal events that gives one the feeling of floating through the end of a dream upon awakening. This seventh and final track is a fitting and moving coda to an album that says so much throughout the course of the preceding six.
Reminiscent of poetry’s most powerful works, the album’s lyricism rests on its ability to imprint moods and images on the minds of the audience, where one ultimately comes to derive pleasure from decoding its messages. What is most striking about this effort is how the musicality of the lyrical text is integral to the overall compositional design, almost to an artisanal degree, and as such challenges your ideas of how a song should grab you at every instance. For all of its symbolism, Boy Interrupted gives you the impression that lyrics are better assimilated when treated as another instrument in the band, as opposed to songs where music sets a background for verse and chorus. Clearly, Barsom wants you to reframe lyrics for their auditory aspects, becoming stitches in a larger musical fabric.
In terms of musicianship, The Weed Garden is tight and displays high levels of performance skill. The members seem to understand the proper treatment of musical space, giving one another the required room to breathe with their respective instruments. Barsom serves as the band’s producer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, handling the majority of the performing/recording duties, while drummers Spencer Inch and Kevin Lowe bring each piece to life with an amazing sense of how to use percussion as an expressive tool. In addition to Inch and Lowe, cellist Elisabeth Jeremica and Barsom’s daughter Elizabeth (credited on the album as “angel choir”) make important contributions in the studio. Mixed by Barsom with assistance on four of the tracks from engineer Bob Klotz, the album was mastered at Airshow Mastering. The production quality is polished, spacious, and crisp, each musical event in the album’s sound fields full of richness and depth.
Once you sit with The Weed Garden’s Boy Interrupted and begin to fully explore what this recording has to offer, you may spend the majority of the album fascinated by the ways in which Barsom and company waft you along with shifting motifs and colors. There is something interesting in almost every section of the music. As such, it is rare to find a recording where one comes away thinking about the absence of filler material, and even more unique are albums that are solid not only from song to song, but from moment to moment. Boy Interrupted stands as a formidable collection, will be one album this year that you’ll keep thinking about, and will leave you curious over what The Weed Garden will bring next.