I first came across Annie Barker in 2007 when she released her debut album Mountains and Tumult. One of the reasons that I was interested in this album was that it was produced, mixed and mastered by Robin Guthrie, formerly of the Cocteau Twins, one of my favorite groups. Guthrie also played guitar, bass and drums on the album. When I bought this album I was immediately hooked. However, straight away people started making comparisons with Guthrie’s former Cocteau Twin member Liz Fraser. Whilst, it is true that both Barker and Fraser’s voices have an ethereal quality, there is a difference in both singer’s styles. Having heard the album and enjoyed it, I decided to find out more about Annie Barker and this is what I found out.

In the past, Annie Barker’s mother said that Annie could sing before she could even speak.  Even from a young age it was clear that Annie was going to become a singer. It was her way of expressing herself. So whilst in school, she trained her voice in jazz, classical through being in various musical groups, as well as studying theatre. Whilst growing up in Los Angeles, Annie worked not only in television, but also in theatre and film. Remarkably, her acting career started when she was only three years old. Annie believes that training as an actor allowed her to explore her emotional self, which she believes was beneficial to her later career as a singer.

What I find amazing about the Annie Barker story, is that whilst she was planning Mountains and Tumult she built her own recording studio from scratch. As if that was not enough, she also learnt how to play the various instruments that you will hear on this album, studied and learnt how music production and the workings of the music business, as well as the ethics of the manufacturing process and about also about design. Clearly Annie Barker is a remarkable lady. The reason she had to do this was that at the start of the project that became Mountains and Tumult, she could not find people who she says could “express her vision”. Thus, Annie decided to take matters into her own hands and started her own record label, Beautiful Revolution Records. The idea behind this was to give her independence in the creative process. 

Later, Annie met Robin Guthrie. This must have been a dream for her as a long time Cocteau Twin fan. She had grown up loving the Cocteau Twins’ music, especially Liz Fraser’s voice. Obviously, meeting Guthrie must have had a huge affect on Annie, being able to work with one of her heroes. It clearly must have been a meeting of minds, and Guthrie’s involvement with Mountains and Tumult has helped to bring out the potential that Annie Barker quite clearly had. Annie believes her music represents the ups and downs we all face whilst traveling through life and is “an opportunity to be loss or more or less me”.

So what of the album Mountains and Tumult? There are ten tracks on the album, and the first thing that strikes you when you listen to this album, is Annie’s voice. It quite literally has the ability to send shivers down your spine. There is, as I said before, an ethereal quality to it, it is a voice that draws you in, and holds your attention. You find yourself spellbound by her voice, wondering what the next song will bring.

The first song on the album is Kissed Me when you hear the introduction sounds very like the Cocteau Twins. However, when Annie’s voice kicks in there is a noticeable difference. Although there is a similar ethereal sound to Barker and Fraser’s voices, Annie sings in a different key to Liz Fraser, and her voice has a wide range. The instrumentation by Guthrie has a Cocteau Twins-esque feel to it, but Annie makes the sound her own. The song has a slow tempo and is a beautiful start to the album.

The second song Revolutionary Rock “N’ Roll has a different sound to it, Barkers’s voice is stronger and there is a bigger sound present, with Barker singing above the  instruments. In some ways it sounds as if she is having to force her vocal to be heard over the instruments, which have a somewhat retro feel to them. This is a good song in a different vain to the previous one.

The next song Pretty Boy Game has more in common with Kissed me than the previous one, Revolutionary Rock “N’ Roll. It is a lovely slow song which seems to deal with the subject of love and rejection. The lyrics are beautiful, albeit tinged with a sadness, pointing to failed relationships, and love gone wrong.

Gripped With That Leg to me, is the standout track on the album. The lyrics are heart-achingly beautiful, and tell a story, that when you read the lyrics you wonder who the song is about and wonder what trauma they suffered. I found myself wanting to know more, who this happened to, when did it happened and why did it happen? One can speculate about what the song is about, I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Elliots’s Song comes a close second to Gripped With That Leg. Again it is a slow song and one that Barker’s voice can do justice to. That ethereal quality is so apparent here, and on this song, there is no comparison with Fraser. Barker’s voice is unique. Here the subject matter appears to deal with the death of a loved one, possible a lover, past or present. It is remarkable how Barker has turned such a devastatingly subject matter into such a beautiful song. Here she is a story-teller and the song will tug at your heart-strings, it certain did with me.

Beautiful Life is another slow song, and here Annie sings the song in a slightly different key, showing the versatility of her voice. This is a love song, about a woman scared of losing the love of her life. She is scared of making a mistake and losing the most important thing in her life. Yet again, this a beautiful song that is one of my favorites and a song that I could see receiving radio play. However, sadly the album remains a sort of cult album, loved by a few people, unknown by the majority of music fans.

When you listen to the next song Sausage Fingers you find Annie singing a slow song which have slightly surreal lyrics. She sings about “sausage fingers walking through a Roman facade”. However, when you listen to the lyrics she seem to be about meeting a past lover and the feeling of rejection when they ignore her, and when she speaks to them they treat her badly, ignoring their previous relationship mocking her father. This is a song that you have to listen to a couple of times to hear and feel its impact. Like a lot of Annie’s songs, It is a song that paints a picture, and allows you to visualize the protagonists involved. This is one of the beauties of Barker’s music, her ability to paint a picture using music.

I Want, the eighth song on the album, finds Guthrie and Barker re-introducing a bigger sound. When you study the lyrics you find yourself speculating about the subject matter of the song. Quite clearly, the song has a sexual theme, and some of the references lead one to speculate whether the song is about conflict regarding sexuality. The conclusion one could draw, is that the song’s solution to the problem is a menage a trois, keeping both the parties the subject of the song is torn between happy. This is an interesting song that Annie sings well.

The penultimate song on the album is the title track Mountains and Tumults. It is a beautiful, slow, atmospheric, song. Barker sings it well and draws the listeners in with her dream-like voice. However, when one studies the lyrics closely, the song is about a woman being badly treated by a man she can’t help but love and want to give herself to. The song finishes with Barker singing about the realization that she should not let him drain her flower, because once he has finished with her “there’ll be none left for the real one”. This is poignant song that Barker sings well and that has the ability to let the listener feel her pain.

The final song on the album Amphetamine Dream, has a Cocteau Twins feel about it. This is a song about a drug influenced relationship where the characters exist in a state of squalor, and eventually, she decides to end the relationship, and having done that, realizes the power “she wields” and “how it feels to hurt a man with the power she wields”. This is a song about a how it dawns on a woman that she is worth more than the situation she is in. It is a good song, well sung by Barker, with a strong narrative.

So Mountains and Tumult is to me an excellent debut album. It is one that is worth buying if you have not already got it in your collection. If you are a Cocteau Twins fan this will definitely interest you, because of Robin Guthrie’s involvement and the comparisons between Annie Barker and Liz Fraser. To me, Barker’s voice has similarities to Fraser’s, but that is no bad thing. Liz Fraser has a great voice and has influenced many female vocalists and has obviously influenced Barker. However, Barker’s style is different, and Barker is a talented songwriter who is capable of telling a story, and bringing a song to life. My final word on Annie Barker is that I hope that she will bring an another album out soon,  as it has been four years since the release of Mountains and Tumult. I like many people who are fans of her music, and appreciate her work, want to here more from her, and hear how her music has evolved in the past four years. So hurry up Annie, we are all here and waiting, for some more of your wonderful music.


Mountains and Tumult

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