Catching Up With Ben Barnett
It’s been as much as half a decade since we’ve heard an official release from Ben Barnett (formerly dba Kind of Like Spitting), but if World Record is any indicator, the time spent out of the rat race has reinvigorated the songwriter, and enabled him to forge an album that is the clarion call to a new era of music. Enter Blunt Mechanic:
Aluminum And Light from World Record [Barsuk]
Ben Barnett is a musician who has, all his life, documented experiences through song. After releasing eight albums, six singles and five splits as Kind of Like Spitting over the course of a decade, retiring the moniker and reinventing himself as Music Director of Seattle’s Paul Green School of Rock, Barnett has now emerged triumphant with a new band, Blunt Mechanic, and said band’s debut full-length, World Record. Both band and album tip heavy on the riffaged hooks and light on the darkness; big on the thumbs up–no time for the thumbs down.
In the mid-’90s, and for more than a decade following, Barnett had enough of that to last him through the foreseeable future. His life then had become about Kind of Like Spitting, and at a certain point, existence had become nomadic, cyclic, troublesome and challenging, and it was time to stop and re-evaluate; reinvent. As often happens when you’re truly open to new things, reinvention found Barnett when he was offered a job that was to be his life calling: teaching kids how to play music. It was a revelation: this was what he was here to do; this was what he was amazing at doing, and this is what he loved: showing kids how to blow peoples’ minds onstage and grow their own souls and self-confidence in the process.
Speaking of processes, during all of this, Barnett found himself completely incapable of keeping away from his eight-track cassette recorder. Life was happening all around him; there was too much to songwrite about! Too much to work out through the get-down! So many sludgy, crunchy solos in his head and so many stony grooves and tricky time-signatured bridges to commit to tape! Even if said musical fruits turned out to maybe never see the light of day (which they did, fortunately for the universe), Barnett could no sooner let his ideas evaporate into the ether than he could quit performing any number of vital bodily functions. Over the course of three years, he laid down each track of each instrument on what was to become World Record, editing and tweaking, mixing and baking until the alchemy completely settled. He gave copies to friends. Friends smiled; Barnett smiled, copious hi-fives were smacked, a live band was assembled and a release date was set.
It is far from hyperbolic to enthusiastically assert that this album—Blunt Mechanic’s first—is Barnett’s finest work to date. Considering the critically-acclaimed and cultishly-followed body of work he has amassed over the past 15 years, it’s understandable that one could lazily dismiss that claim before having heard the onslaught of unstoppable, charming hooks, impeccably constructed songs, heart-wrenching, moving, uplifting storytelling, brilliant turns of phrase and vocal/instrumental interplay that defines World Record. Barnett has here created the culmination of his musical and personal explorations in a way that is powerful, relatable, inspirational, ineffable and communicable, and there’s just no stopping that kind of force.
But listening close reveals antecedents in Barnett’s former incarnation:
Kind Of Like Spitting – “One Bird One Stone” from $100 Room