By: Sasha Lindsay –
Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Jill Barber will release a new album titled Metaphora on June 22 via Outside Music. This solo effort explores new stylistic territory for Barber (a multiple Juno nominee) as it veers into a more contemporary pop sound.
Barber is known for mellifluous vocals that merge well with multiple genres. Her diverse musical portfolio includes offerings of jazz, folk, pop and country. Her debut album A Note To Follow So (2002) was folk and pop, followed by multiple releases over the years. Included, was the 2008 album Chances, jazz-inspired and orchestral, which was a turning point in her career. The romantic and elegant “Chances”, which was reminiscent of jazz classics, garnered Doris Day comparisons and was even heard on screen. Mischievous Moon (2011) was dreamy and continued on the strength of Chances. An album recorded entirely in French,Chansons was released in 2013, where she performed covers of songs such as Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise”. She collaborated with her brother, singer-songwriter Matthew Barber and created the folk and country inspired, The Family Album in 2016. Metaphorais a continuation of her musical evolution with a personal, reflective verve.
If Barber is known to be inspired by music of a bygone era, this album takes a different direction. It addresses the current social and political climate while looking to the future. She states, “I think we’re in an interesting place in future history. I think there’s also a sea change happening politically with women and the role that we play. I feel like I’m coming into my own as a woman. I’m more aware of the power that I have now, and I want to use that power for good”. Co-writing with friend Ryan Guldemond (Mother Mother) on four tracks, equals an accessible, buoyant album with a refreshing perspective.
In the first track, “The Woman” we hear thumping, almost tribal percussion that builds, with Barber’s distinctive smoky voice. With lyrics such as, “She’s the woman/The darkness and the light”, it introduces listeners to her take on the female experience. Reminiscent of Serena Ryder’s “Stompa”, it is a solid opening and initiates the energy that permeates the album.
With elements of pop already in her musical palette, “Girl’s Gotts Do” is spirited and magnifies the pop sound with a tinge of R&B. Female empowerment is at the forefront here. Addressing the track’s purpose, Barber states it is to “challenge the patriarchal status quo, as we usher in a new era of equality”. And these lyrics highlight this:“’Cause I can think like a man/Drink like a man/Wink just like a man” and “Get it right just like a man/Not think twice like a man/Quit playing nice just like a man”. Although simple, the lyrics get to the point of the heavy topic while keeping things light. She sounds similar to Martina Sorbara (Dragonette) with a sharp, lively sound.
The upbeat vibe continues with “Hooked Your Heart” and “Clumsy Heart”. These tracks showcase both vulnerability and hopefulness. With the cheery “Clumsy Heart”, the lyrics “My clumsy heart slips and falls in love again” and “Maybe you’ll be the one to break my fall” give us a view into her mindset regarding the beginning of a relationship.
In “Bigger Than You” she takes a stance against bullying. She speeds up as she sings “Float like a butterfly/Sting like a bee” and then asserts herself: “I put my hands in the air/I’m not scared/I’m not scared/I’m bigger than you/You’ve got teeth to bare/But I’m not scared”.
There are shifts in momentum – notably, the stirring ballad “Mercy” where things slow down with a sombre yet sweet piano melody. “Mercy” is emotional and focuses on empowerment with heartfelt lyrics. She sings “You want to feel all right/You want to see that light shining again”, offering empathy. Barber states, “‘Mercy’ is a song to anyone who battles daily with their inner critic, or wrestles with the beast of depression. To those for whom feeling all right is a major triumph.” The result is sympathetic and we believe her when she repeats, “Show mercy to yourself”. The sound is subtly similar to Sarah McLachlan’s “Building A Mystery”.
“Cage Without A Key” sounds like a counterpart to “Mercy”. And the atmosphere recalls the brooding “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys, in its own airy way. Barber showcases wistful vocals as she sings “Dark as the ocean/Deep as the sea/High like the tide/Rising in me” highlighting a poetic vibe. Her vocals swell when she sings, “Set me free/The wings inside of me set me free” and it elevates the already stellar track with jazzy breathiness. This is the Barber we are more familiar with, as she evokes a classic feeling.
In “Love Is”, Barber addresses her definition of keeping a relationship solid (she has been married to media personality Grant Lawrence since 2010). With contemplative lyrics such as, “I’ve been picking the fruit from the vine/I’ve been pinching the salt from the sea/I’ve been trying to turn water into wine/And keep it breezy”, she adds a unique flair. Then backing vocals chime in with her when we hear, “’Cause love is taking what you get/And love is giving all you’ve got/And love is having what it takes to get there”. Hers is a realistic but hopeful lens.
The album ends on a slower note with “Hold On” and the track is similar to the electropop sound of Lights. With lyrics such as, “Our love is an island/Made of everything we are/Stay here and be lost forever/Don’t wake me up/We’ve come this far” and “Hold on to me/When our love is lost at sea/Hold on to me”, there is a mix of melancholy and optimism.
The contemporary flair in Metaphora fits well with Barber’s overall message that highlights the female experience, empowerment, mental health and the complexity of relationships. Lyrically, she keeps a sincere and optimistic lens on the things that matter to her. And even while veering into a more modern-day sound, there are no jarring detours – the pop vibe sounds like a natural progression. Production is finely-tuned and most tracks are danceable (if that’s what you’re after). Ultimately, this is a meaningful album from a musical chameleon.
Recommended Tracks: “Cage Without A Key”, “Mercy”, and “Hold On”.