A few years ago, I tried to pressure The Just Barelys to put out a new record with an incessant amount of myspace queries (when that was actually still a thing) and blog posts. Jesus, if Twitter was half as popular as it is today or kickstarter existed, #justbarelyspleaserecord would have been trending daily and my bank account would have been drained.
But unlike so many bands with even a fraction of their talent, The Just Barelys slow played their hand and made us wait… and wait and wait.
On Feb. 14th, the duo will finally release Mad Bits and without question, they deliver on the potential I heard on Top and exceed even my highest of expectations. The songs are challenging and still somehow completely accessible. When they want to, the duo can construct a hook so infectious it could be the genesis of Contagion, but they never rely on a stagnant collection of catchy chords. Almost every song opts to showcase a unique ability to distort melody with frantic shifts and computer manipulations without losing control of the experiment. The JBs seem to instinctively know when to change gears and truncate a song or scale back their experimental tendencies in favor of dance-ability, giving each song surprising depth and longevity.
These are more than quick hitting pop ditties and that surprising half-life and sophistication is exactly what makes Mad Bits so refreshing. The dense, punchy hooks and quirky transitions are incredibly ear pleasing, but neither is what helps the songs stick in your brain. The duo sing with earnestness and sincerity about their chosen profession, leaving any of the stereotypical art-school apathy and entitlement behind. They sing with passion about their passion, and while some of these songs are directly focused on the art world (and other jams are so out there, they are hard to describe), in today’s economy the plight of artists isn’t that different than any other profession.
Journalists are scraping by, trying to get paid or write for free. Factory workers spend years getting trained only to find see the plant close without any fallback plan. Costs go up, but salaries don’t. We’re all losing. Sure, creativity as professional output is being choked and devalued, but you can ask almost any of the 99% and you’ll find we all went to school, worked hard to get our degree and just want to be able to live the life we we’re promised. When Stephen and “Eleanor” sing of working hard for nothing, wondering if it’s time to give up on their real dreams and get stable employment or why we should steal cable, these are no longer foreign concepts to conservatives or gainfully employed college grads. We’re all swimming in the shit, hoping to eventually finish that long crawl to freedom.
This record has taken the better part of three years to develop, and whether it was uncertainty about the songs they were writing, remarkable patience or just timing, Mad Bits benefits from its longer cook time. The songs feel complete, the ideas they present (while seemingly insignificant on first pass) actually present a very accurate view of our culture. The Just Barelys just sweeten this bleak outlook with some of the best melodies you will hear all year.