Though his songwriting dwells in intimately confessional territory, Canadian singer/songwriter Barzin Hosseini himself is a pretty enigmatic figure. Publicly, he appears as Barzin or Barzin H, with little biographical detail apart from what’s in in his songs. His presence as a songwriter, though, displays a poetics-heavy musical sensibility, with spotlight awarded to lyrical rhythms and manipulations. Instrumental lines—melancholic and cyclical—take their cues from the themes the words set in motion. “In this place, I’m loyal to memory,” Barzin sings in the fourth, and most urgent, track on his new album, To Live Alone In That Long Summer, “Stealing Beauty.” “You look inside houses to see how others live/ and you make the same mistakes, the knowledge comes too late.” Guitars dust pretty arpeggios over the track, always in support of the vocals.
If Barzin’s last release, 2009’s Notes To An Absent Lover, was a breakup album, To Live Alone deals with the reorganization of life after that breakup. The song collection plods through the process of re-learning how to live alone, and to that end, Barzin first envisioned an instrumentally minimalist album. That idea adapted, as his project took shape, to include input from a slew of musician friends. Bolstered by backup vocals from Tony Dekker, Daniela Gesundheit, and Tamara Lindeman, To Live Alone—while circling lyrical themes of isolation and loneliness—is Barzin’s most inclusive record.
Since its inception as Hosseini’s solo act in 1995, the project has regularly expanded to incorporate an array of musicians. Despite all those additions, alterations, and guest appearances, the group’s musical foundation hasn’t changed much. Although additional musicians make for a more filled-out record, you can hear the minimalist impulses behind Hosseini’s voice no matter how many people he’s playing alongside, and the melancholic lyrics and matching sad music that are the new record’s signature have been key to Barzin’s work from the beginning. It’s no surprise that, by now, Hosseini has mastered the turf. He’s able to more or less eschew over-sentimentality on this record, which is a feat considering how introspective and nostalgic the songs unfailingly are. That’s because, as much as To Live Alone becomes engrossed in remembrance, the album details an obsession with deliberate forward motion. Like stacking building blocks, the tracks take us through the work of building (or re-building) a life, and the anxiety of not being able to figure out how other people have successfully done so.
The record shows growth for Barzin in a few different categories—instrumentally, there’s a bit more dynamic range than on previous releases—but not as much as you might imagine, given that the outfit’s been around for almost twenty years, and that their last album came out way back in 2009. The guitar lines, though clean, are extremely repetitive—sometimes frustratingly so—and the songs’ build-ups come very subtly, with faint pay-off. The forward momentum of To Live Alone‘s moving-on idea is its most interesting component, and the biggest source of progression over the duration of the album.