Reviews – Barbez

Barbez Website

Daria Vaisman wrote in the NY Press about Barbez at the Knitting Factory, December 14, 2001,

“I’m mostly into it, thinking, pretty good, pretty good, until their singer, the spectacular Ksenia Vidyaykina, comes onstage and transforms the band to greatness […] Her persona’s fascinating and bizarre, and only describable by association […] I’d assumed she was doped-up or a Daniel Johnston-type you watch the way you watch an accident, but she was just performing.”

maximum-ink about the second Barbez CD, July 2002

“What makes Barbez so striking is its unique blend of music and theater, rock and puppetry, bicycles and birds, old and new, humor and sorrow…Barbez, this postcabaret/klezmer/tango/Slavic band is made up of old nostalgic instruments like theremin and marimba along with more typical and skillfully played ones like guitar, bass and drums…Their lyrics are as psychedelic as their music and a monologue from Chekhov never sounds out of place. Some of their songs have lyrics in both English and Russian, other songs have no words at all and Ksenia does the storytelling in dance, facial expressions and mechanical movements. To make a long story short, the band is so good they can some whatever and whenever they want.”

(Y.C.R.O.P. – Young Creative Russians Online Portfolio, October 11, 2002)

KindaMusik (Dutch online magazine) about the Barbez CD, December 01, 2002

“Just before his death, Robert Moog came out as a Barbez fan, sporting one of its T-shirts in the documentary Moog. The appeal of this downtown septet to the electronic-music pioneer is easy to fathom, for, like the varied creations Moog’s synthesizers inspired (such as Wendy Carlos’s Switched On Bach), their music blurs distinctions between contemporary and classical traditions, and emphasizes timbres that hover between earthly and otherworldly.

Insignificance, the group’s third full-length, is notable for its inclusion of works by several 20th-century composers who have little connection to pop. Barbez’s arrangement of “The Portrait” by Alfred Schnittke unfurls as a lively folk dance; despite being driven by electric guitar, it still smacks of the Lower East Side circa 1900. Erik Satie’s gossamer “Gnossienne #3” takes on an eerie character when recast to feature theremin and marimba, while Brecht and Eisler’s WWII labor anthem, “Song of the Moldau,” is slowed to a solemn dirge, spotlighting guest performer Jeremy Jacobsen (a.k.a. the Lonesome Organist).

Yet Barbez wields much more than oddball instruments and Ksenia Vidyaykina’s syrupy, heavily accented vocals. On originals, including the percussive “Strange” and the title cut, the band members display a command of dynamics that rivals noise innovators Sonic Youth and Swans, while “Fear of Commitment” features abrupt time changes that could give seasoned jazz players whiplash. Celebrating fringe music and ethnic subcultures in an era of rising political and religious homogeneity? How very Weimar Republic. The degenerate-art revival starts here.”

(Time Out New York)

“Barbez may be the greatest bar-mitzvah band ever. Only their penchant for ghastly, dark cabaret jam sessions holds the cantankerous Klezmerites from owning the party circuit. When the Brooklyn quintet isn’t smashing Russian vodka anthems like “The Sea Spread Wide” asunder with shards of Kurt Weill-y ephemera, they’re rewriting dark indie rock for the post-Bad Seeds generation. Throughout their third album, insignificance, Russia-born singer Ksenia Vidyaykina spans an impressive range from bellowing baritone to glass-shattering dog whistles. Her voice is so versatile that when she duets with the band’s theremin player, it’s difficult to discern which is which. On the title song, Virdyaykina’s insurmountable intensity rivals Diamanda Galas as she swoops around frightening sci-fi cadences and plucky marimbas. While the band’s influences are vast, and that sometimes leads to musical rambling, it’s rare that a band as musically advanced as Barbez, or at least one willing to take broad chances, has such a clear vision of their art.”

(CMJ New Music Monthly)

“Unlike Barbez’s first two discs, Insignificance (out this Tuesday), again produced by New York noise stalwart Martin Bisi, feels like an adjunct to the group’s theatrical live shows than an accomplished studio work. It adds another bead to their string of Brecht interpretations, this time the anti-authoritarian “Song of the Moldau.” Other outside material includes two Slavic folk tunes and a spacious arrangement of Erik Satie’s third Gnossienne. But the real interest lies in guitarist Dan Kaufman’s originals, with tricky time signatures that could come out of 14th-century Macedonia or mid-’90s Chicago and are enhanced by the unusual control of theremin player Pamelia Kurstin. Both the title track and “Fear of Commitment” begin as poised Tortoise-and-Cake confections before breaking out into, respectively, staticky, disorienting electronics and hardcore — that is, if hardcore featured marimba solos. And St. Petersburg-born Ksenia Vidyaykina’s vocals are deep and rough-timbred as she threads a multi-lingual path through the 10-minute-plus “Pain.” If the Dresden Dolls are the gateway drug of cabaret rock, Barbez are the hard stuff.”

(Boston Phoenix)

“Try to forget how the music of Barbez is made. Sure, the avant-carnie instrumentation on the Brooklyn band’s third album is distinct, but the act of combining marimba, theremin and a modified Palm Pilot with a standard rock lineup isn’t nearly as important as how those instruments frame and deepen the claustrophobia of guitarist Dan Kaufman’s songs. Sounding like a far more austere Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Barbez dispenses its moody art rock with a Weimar-era cabaret sensibility and an ear toward eastern European folk traditions. In addition to Kaufman’s originals, the band offers its take on two Russian folk songs as well as a stunning cover of Brecht/Eisler’s “Song of the Moldau,” featuring the Lonesome Organist. Elaborately arranged as they are, pieces such as “Fear of Commitment” and especially the eleven-minute “Pain” seem ready to disintegrate at any moment. Intricate guitar/theremin duets collapse into free-form marimba freak-outs, sing-songy sections give way to perverted tangos, and expat Russian vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina’s warbling moves from merely unhinged to psychotically violent.

Barbez pulls off a remarkable trick on Insignificance: cobbling together hundreds of years of pan-cultural musical detritus and still sounding wholly contemporary, wholly its own. It’s a deeply disturbing record, to be sure, but a riveting one, too.”


“The war drums and Russian-gothic chanting at the onset of Barbez’s Insignificance set a tone for angst-ridden and shifty-eyed scowling — all for the sake of art. This ethno-fueled band of Brooklynites isn’t churning out the standard fare of Williamsburg avant-garde hipster shit. The plunking and wailing contained within is the result of transcontinental, accomplished musicians shedding academics to plunge head-long into more than just a little night music.

Vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina’s guttural and alluring voice at once conjures the occult qualities of Siouxsie Sioux while adopting a traditional, Eastern European accent. Her bass-heavy bellow provides the perfect counter-weight to the twinkling procession of vibes, theremin, Palm Pilot and guitar that follows in her wake. “Fear of Commitment” snakes through moments of murky yearning before clusters of chaotic rhythm and percussion constrict with confusion and everblackening tension. And while songs like “A Melancholy Picnic” and the title track are bursting with textural spookiness and a supernatural timbre, there’s a rock element underlying it all.

To label Barbez a chamber punk ensemble not only encompasses the point; it also overstates it. Fans of straightforward classical music won’t find much appealing about Insignificance. Nor will enthusiasts of cut-and-dry punk and indie rock. Any and all sense of nihilism swelling up in these songs is eclipsed by a dark, Romantic resonance and a spirit of expression and experimentation that jumps the borders of these boundaries. Barbez’s exchange of traditional and modern methods to push the music into compelling new territory is anything but insignificant.”


““Insignificance” opens with a Russian folk song that may have you dancing around the living room in a loincloth. Track two, “Strange”, is a seven minute trip through all sorts of odd territory. And the ten minute “Pain” turns into a mesmerizing chant. It’s impossible to stop listening to what these seven musicians have conjured up with instrumentation including vibes, theremin, marimba and some pretty aggressive drumming. Singer Ksenia Vidyaykina is like a toned-down Diamanda Galas; not that she has Diamanda’s range, but there’s some craziness lingering behind the formalness of her vocals. If folk is part of the inspiration — there is a second traditional Russian tune on the disc — it is not the form of execution as this is no folk record. There’s something of the exotic, the nightmarish and the funhouse-like here. Like if Tom Waits screwed P.J. Harvey and she came away from it suddenly original and musically interesting.”

(Rat Blood Soup)

“If anyone knows the meaning of cultural detritus (and uses it in a daily application), it’s Barbez: New York’s chamber punk sextet. With a valiant pairing of sensibilities from past and future, the eclectic ensemble brings the feel of cabaret to their vagabond music…they include their own selection of Eastern European-influenced acoustic punk, lilting melodies with a sense of danger about them, songs sung in Russian by stellar vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina — who uses her profound gift for choreography to ‘pepper’ Barbez’s performances with a sampling of tango and other graceful types of motion, plus costume changes.”

(The Portland Mercury)