- The Scottish artist's most ambitious record yet doesn't deliver on its lofty premise.
- Whether or not you listen to his music, you probably have an idea of what Denis Sulta, real name Hector Barbour, is like. The online showreel of him dancing on tables and crowd surfing presents a "showman with a laddish streak," to borrow Carlos Hawthorn's words. His new EP, Aye Spoake Te Sumwuhn & They Listenhd, suggests a different image. The press release riffs on self-discovery, framing the release as an exploration of his "personal and at times difficult journey" to stardom, a journey that involved periods of depression. The artwork and press shots seem to channel the gender-bending rock star imagery of David Bowie or Young Thug. It's a landmark release for Barbour, not only because, at 44 minutes, it's his longest yet, but also because it touches on themes that most people wouldn't immediately associate with his music.
Musically, Aye Spoake… is varied and surprising. For one, there are no disco edits. "Matthew Keeps Me Pirrie," an atmospheric house track with a bubbling melody, is the only moment that recalls Barbour's previous work. On a pair of gritty techno tracks, he's unrecognisable. "It's Tough, But Not As Much As The Dream Is Worth (Joseph)" is a slow burner that fails to maintain momentum for the full nine minutes. On the other hand, the lo-fi and industrial "Dan (wll SOME day KNOW How Special He Makes Me Feel)" is fun and impressively unhinged.
Then there are tracks like "Gas Whillis (While I Paint My Nails)," a house beat punctuated by sections of silence and heavy EQing. The gain is sometimes turned up so high that everything distorts, then is jarringly reduced. Its unpredictability could be exciting on a dance floor, but at home it's difficult to listen to more than once. "ForTee" is similar. The first few minutes are among the EP's best. A submerged beat foregrounds a clever interplay between piano chords and an echoey melody, until it's interrupted by a trancey synth outburst. Sulta's ideas are interesting, but he abandons them too quickly.
In these moments, Barbour's intentions are hard to read. The rudimentary ways that flow is disrupted don't make these tracks particularly interesting on a conceptual or experimental level. The autobiographical themes and heavy use of his own voice reinforce the idea that Aye Spoake is a personal record. But moments of emotional expression in the tracks themselves are fleeting, brief suggestions that are quickly pushed aside. Barbour recently claimed that there are only "two genres of music: good and bad." There's both here, but more than anything else, Aye Spoake… is confusing.
A2 Gas Whillis (While I Paint My Nails)
B2 I'm Not Always Right, So I Listen
C1 Matthew Keeps Me Pirrie
C2 It's Tough, But Not As Much As The Dream Is Worth (Joseph)
D1 Dan (wll SOME day KNOW How Special He Makes Me Feel)
D2 Welcome, To The Rest Of My Life