Barty’s Path Takes a Strange Trip Around the World on Debut Album
The brainchild of Mumbai artist Arjun Iyer, this 11-track album is thematically cryptic and sonically diverse
Cooped up in his home studio, Mumbai composer, guitarist and vocalist Arjun Iyer seems to have dreamt up a parallel world for his alternative/world music project Barty’s Path. After occasionally releasing material over the last two years, Iyer’s entire sojourn that is Where Is Everybody? is finally out for public consumption.
Just like his space rock band Gumbal has set out concept and theme on their last two EPs A For and Small Step, so has Barty’s Path ”“ but it’s got so many layers and stories buried in cryptic metaphors that it’s certainly difficult to explain, let alone wrap your head around it in a few spins of the 11-track album. From Iraq to communist Russia to Greenland, Where Is Everybody? features characters in different predicaments ”“ mostly negative, sometimes celebratory but always surreal.
And you can just tell Iyer wants the listener to dive into stories within stories, even if the arcs don’t make sense. The hymn-like opener “Morning Prayer” is about a protagonist who seeks self-improvement, Iyer just teasing us with his vocal range. With an arrangement of strings and drums, the scene shifts to a farmer and his landlord on what was the musician’s earliest single, “Valor/Squalor.” “The Wolf Who Cried Boy” begins with a groovy horn section complete with nocturnal piano but there’s more symbolism to wrap your head around on it. Iyer takes a turn towards the weird, becoming an ominous, omniscient narrator on the abstract “Born Into Cutlery,” tracing the fable of a Hungarian boy named Stefan who realizes “he must feed his true master” ”“ his stomach.
On the two-part “Armed Forces,” Iyer experiments with more cinematic soundscapes, adding a touch of Eastern influence to connote a setting somewhere in Iraq. Without words (and without the album inlay notes), it nearly passes you by, but also denotes a strange shift in tides on the album.
What we hear next is “What Was Once A Part of Me (And Where It Is Now)” ”“ another early Barty’s Path cut-out that is hypnotic in its vibraphone hooks that give way to guitars and an actual beat. But just when you feel like you’re in a familiar sonic territory, “Afraid of Things You Can’t Even See” pushes the listener into an ebb and flow of pleasant and uncomfortable soundscapes.
The cacophonousÂ jazz of “We Found Tyche!” similarly morphs capriciously into a gypsy campfire song, accordions and Russian accents in tow. At least one thing you can guess for sure is Iyer’s intention to create a comic scene. He soon switches gears on the morose “Ittoqqortoormiit + Dear Listener,” which features a prominent flugelhorn section, ocean drums and dreamy keys.
Like the end of a film, the album closer “Everybody Has Moved” uses samples of airplanes flying to boarding announcements, phones and doorbells ringing, over an expectant piano-guitar melody.
At times, Where Is Everybody? has too much to take in, even for half an hour’s worth of emboldened cinematic music. There’s a strong resolve to tell a story, and also for the listener to find the story. It’s an album crafted meticulously and surprisingly leans on European music, so even a few preliminary spins won’t get you close to understanding the intricacies of Barty’s Path. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Key tracks: “We Found Tyche!” “What Was Once”¦”
Listen to Where Is Everybody?Â Buy the album on OKListen.