Alexis Taylor’s second solo album, Await Barbarians is a series of songs “from the halfway line.’ Possessing the same immediacy as his music with Hot Chip and the adventurousness of his work with About Group, there is a special intimacy to these lyrics, a simplicity and candour in his expression of emotion that brings to mind the best singer-songwriter records from Laurel Canyon, though as always with Taylor the moments of honesty are matched with a sense of humour, playfulness and fun.
Playing and recording all the instruments himself apart from strings, Taylor also presents a more reflective side of his writing and singing - something that has been there all along, but which comes into focus in a more confident and defined manner than before.
With its brushed cymbal-led quiet and solitude, and its startlingly direct recording approach, the album recalls in places the work of such English luminaries as Mark Hollis and Robert Wyatt. Recalling such recordings is one thing, but the record doesn't sound especially like those. Await Barbarians' soundworld is entirely Taylor's own - at times claustrophobic, synth-led and dry, and at others spacious, warm and homely, it always places Taylor's unique and recognizable vocals up front in the mix, rarely adorned by audible effects. Out of its brittleness and submerged sounding musical backdrop, something beautiful emerges in 'New Hours'; in its melodic immediacy and confessional performance, 'Dolly and Porter' is both moving and arresting, its lyric speaking of the emotional often being misjudged as the intellectual:
"I try to put my heart first,
You only hear head
You should use yours -
I mean your head and your heart"
AT: "Albums I love like 'Red Apple Falls' by Smog and 'Arise Therefore' by Palace rarely leave my mind when making music, but this record was made pretty much in isolation, not thinking about reference points at all really. I would respond to the songs that came to me - sometimes in dreams - trying to create sound worlds for each of them, and also trying to never over-fill the music. Often I track something with traditional elements such as guitar or Rhodes first, and then remove those later, leaving just the textural synthetic or acoustic elements, pushing them up in the mix, and leaving the song sounding more wayward and less grounded as a result."
Often underrated as a lyricist, on this record Taylor toys with contradictions and paradox, moving between expressions of love and a raw awareness of the vicissitudes of daily life. He sings about cryptic dreams, fatherhood, fear of invasion and illness, mortality, relationships with friends, feeling older yet at the same time younger than he ever has. “My name means defender,” he sings on ‘Am I Not a Soldier’, and there’s a sense running through the album that these are sentiments almost too personal to put into song. The record works as a spell of protection as Taylor addresses his closest ones and even his own immune system. The arrangements perfectly complement the lost-in-time-and-space feeling of the record, the always at home in the studio Taylor remaining as musically adventurous and as winningly open to an inspiringly wide range of new and old influences as he is lyrically bold.
Await Barbarians is a record whose warm tones draw you in, whose sequencing asks of the listener an uninterrupted session of close listening, and whose sound world reminds us of the pleasures of all that is quiet in music, in a time of heavily compressed and attention-demanding loudness. It doesn't sound like or try to compete with other records being made right now - and couldn't be further away from what is expected of a musician associated with dance music culture. Itis rich in deep insight and profound feeling, a truly significant album by one of the country’s most continually arresting musicians, the latest in an extraordinary run of recent releases. Playing and recording all the instruments himself apart from strings, Taylor also presents a more reflective side of his writing and singing, which comes into focus in a more confident and defined manner than before.