By Chris Whitehead
Having had the chance to see Michael Barrow & The Tourists perform once previously, I was eager to dive into their debut album, Juneau. This is an album that takes notes from great indie artists without being a carbon copy of them. Like most good pop songs, these 9 tracks (or 10, depending on who’s counting) feel familiar yet somehow new when you first hear them.
The album opener, “Sing Me Something New,” starts out sparse instrumentally and steadily builds to a full blown indie rocker. It is followed by the triumphant, “The Mountain & The Sea,” which charges forward with a driving snare rhythm. A few slower songs follow, including “The List,” a hopeful song about the insecurities we all feel in our relationships, and “Hey, Hey, Hey,” one of my personal favorite tracks from the album.
“Sad Song” is a mellow tune that wouldn’t feel out of place on a John Mayer album. “Born to Love” is a fun tune, and another stand-out from the album in my opinion. Trade out the full drum kit for a single kick and the electric guitar for a banjo and it could be a pre-Wilder Mind-era Mumford & Sons song.
Next is “Turning to Gold,” a simply summery gem with a shimmering chorus. The lead guitar at times tries to take up space that doesn’t necessarily need to be filled, but this is easily forgivable considering all the great fills that do fit. “The Reason” is a beautiful, bare-bones ballad, built almost entirely on lush, clean electric guitars. “The Watchman” is a lyrical and musical journey, told from the perspective of a man on top of a proverbial watchtower. This is followed by the hidden track, “You’ll Never Know.” Though this is a good song on its own, and I appreciate the idea of including a hidden track, it feels a bit out of place tacked onto the tail end of what was an already apt album closer.
Overall, this album sounds great, and is a breath of fresh air in a music scene that, in my opinion, is often a bit synth-heavy. Each of these musicians is more than capable, and they seem to play well around each other. The rhythm section is tight, and something has to be said of the excellent vocals and rhythm guitar work on the part of the frontman.
Juneau isn’t a perfect album, but its songs’ imperfections are human, and after a few listens, you grow to love them like you do a person despite (or maybe because of) those imperfections. I feel confident in saying that you can expect good things from this band. Whatever they decide to do sonically in the future, at the bottom of everything is a foundation of solid songwriting.
Make sure to like Michael Barrow & The Tourists on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@michaelbarrowandthetourists). You can listen to Juneau on Spotify here. Check out “Sing Me Something New” below.