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Album Review: Barika, 'A Simple Light'


Published October 24, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

Barika, A Simple Light
  • Barika, A Simple Light

(Self-released, CD, digital)

Seasons change, the cold winds rise, and we're all making our winter playlists: songs to keep us moving, songs to fill up time when the sun goes down early. We need big rhythms and vibrant, kinetic melodies to get us moving a little faster. Barika have delivered those vibes in spades on their newest release, A Simple Light. The record bobs and weaves with heart, color and inventiveness from open to close.

The Vermont band has been a scene stalwart for nearly a decade. Led by Craig Myers — a member of Phish bassist Mike Gordon's band, as well as a founding member of Rubblebucket — Barika fuse West African funk with jazz, indie and synth rock. It's a singular, distinctive sound built around Myers's n'goni — an ancient African stringed instrument and ancestor to the banjo. Together with Caleb Bronz on drums, Giovanni Rovetto on bass, Colin Lenox on guitar and keys, Chris Hawthorne on trumpet and synths, and Matt Davide on saxophone, the band has evolved from record to record, honing their sound while simultaneously exploring possibilities.

A Simple Light starts with "On the Move," a laid-back world-music-infused jam. A lovely strummed arpeggio on the n'goni begins it all before Bronz drops a head-nod beat. As the band wades into the tune, building but still holding to a groove, Lenox teases a jazzy guitar solo while the horns add a sense of urgency.

"Hit The Ground" is the designated ass-mover of the album. Myers unleashes a riff that pings from one side of the speakers to the other, and the band wades into such a funk that you might start pimp-walking with a cane just for the fuck of it. Hawthorne and Davide's horns are irresistible, and when the big breakdown hits around three and a half minutes in, one can just picture Nectar's packed to the gills with undulating fans losing their minds.

The title track features the rare lead vocal from Myers. It's a beautifully subdued song, matched by an earnest, mantra-like melody. Though the album is mostly instrumental, Barika sprinkle the occasional guest vocalists here and there. Erica T. Bryan of Connecticut funk/soul outfit the West End Blend leads a gorgeous vocal on "Oh Baby," the most unabashedly catchy of the album's tracks. Local indie darling Ivamae comes in for an inspired vocal performance on "Bless the Child." Joining her is Burlington rapper/producer Enemy Self, who lends the song an edge with his verses.

There isn't a weak moment on the album as Barika go from strength to strength. The band deftly takes many sonic roads, from krautrock synths with eerie vocal samples to gentle love songs to straight-up burn-the-house-down funk. That versatility makes A Simple Light a joyous listen, full of sophisticated beauty and good grooves. It's one hell of a record to stave off the "winter is coming" blues.

A Simple Light is available at now. Catch Barika on Friday, November 6, at Positive Pie in Montpelier.