Annie Barker is a singer from Los Angeles who lives in the UK. ... For a Better Place is the follow up to her 2006 debut LP. Like that LP, this EP was produced by Robin Guthrie. In fact, Mr. Guthrie plays on this record, produced it, and also released it on his digital label, Soleil Après Minuit. So, for a Robin Guthrie fanboy like myself, this is almost like a new Guthrie record. Yay.
However, as is the case with each collaboration he does, Guthrie does not dominate the proceedings. With Barker singing, this could easily be twisted into another album like something from Violet Indiana. Barker's vocal style is very different from Siobhan De Mare though. Barker is more gothy in her singing, dragging the notes out dramatically. It works as a good accompaniment to Guthrie's chiming guitar, and he mostly just lets her do her own thing while he plays away.
The EP starts off with Cruel, a delicate song. There is a faint chugging beat, a wash of synths, that guitar tinkling away, and Barker's voice. Here, she is kind of high-pitched and very girly.
So Refined is a great pop tune, one of the highlights here. There are two layers of guitar, one rumbling and one chiming, and Barker cuts loose vocally, really wailing "keep tonguing the hole in the top of my lip right there" over and over at the end. It's kind of a disturbing image -- is she singing about domestic violence or body piercing? Either way, it's powerful stuff.
It's back to the delicateness for Coat Off, with Barker singing at the top of her register. The voice is paired with a light guitar riff and a light tinkling beat. But on Ghetto Birds Barker sings operatically, really drawing the sounds out of the words. The guitar is really subtle here, letting the voice do most of the work.
And finally we end with the Manual remix of Cruel. Jonas Munk makes the song a little funkier with clattering percussion. He also makes the song grow more, blossoming like a traditional Guthrie album closer (think Donimo or Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires). It is a lovely end to the EP.
Fans of female voiced dream pop will find much to like here. Hopefully Ms. Barker will not keep us waiting six more years for her next release.