Perhapsy is the solo project of musician/graphic-artist Derek Barber, guitarist and songwriter of Bay Area-based groups Curls (Christopher Owens of Girls), Bells Atlas, and contributor to Astronauts, etc. and Madeline Kenney.
Although Perhapsy began as an instrumental post-rock band during Barber’s formative college years as a Jazz Studies major at the University of Michigan, upon graduation, everything changed. While on tour, Barber — diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder — endured an extended hospitalization in 2009. The experience left a lasting impression on him. Eventually, he emerged with a newfound musical confidence. This new desire to write songs about his struggles with mental illness, the day-to-day complex emotions of life, and the weight of his past religious overcoming would eventually find voice on the 2016 sophomore album Me Tie Dough-ty Walker. A marked transformation in stylistic direction, its songs focused not only around Barber’s dynamic guitar playing, but his distinctive and personal vocal stylings and songwriting.
Continuing to battle the everyday stigma surrounding mental illness, pondering extended periods of his life in psychiatric institutions, and a candid desire to bring real-life emotions to a song’s surface, Perhapsy released The — an EP off Oakland labels Copper Mouth Records and Wave Dweller — in 2017. Gaining notoriety around the Bay Area for his inimitable guitar contributions to high-profile bands, Perhapsy became additionally highlighted in local and online press for engaging live performances and an emerging talent as a visual artist.
Kingdom Starlight Bliss — the new and third full-length album by Perhapsy — is an invitation into the ever-lush, layered, melodic, dissonant, and deeply personal musical world of Barber. At first glance, its title and grinning/greeting monster-based album art brings to mind the cover of a Nintendo video game circa 1990: a charming and not nostalgically far-off perception. However, observers needn’t look very far from the welcoming monsters to make the connection with another musician/artist — one famous for his pure, soulful sincerity as well as courageous efforts in spite of mental health struggles. While KSB may not exist in the more stripped-down, stylistic vein of Daniel Johnston, there’s a parallel within the album’s creativity and sacred practice of bedroom recording. And while Johnston’s legendary bedroom pop is certainly more raw than the detailed and layered world of Perhapsy, it is with the same power of resilience, imagination, and artistic courage Barber draws his inspiration.
Opening track “William Timothy” recounts the memory and personal story of the death of Barber’s father at age 13. As the track gradually swells from steady strums to swirling backwards guitar, its lyrics concern carrying the weight of this experience mixed with “sleeping pills and Depakote”: two elements anyone familiar with Bipolar disorder would know well. It’s with this deep candidness and dream-like qualities the listener is greeted into the complex world of bliss and sorrow.
"The Curse (Is Getting Worse)" is a Heatmiser-esque banger with a propulsive drum and chord pattern inversely paired with pleading soft vocals. With a hook that imploringly asks "Who" and "What are you?" its full-bore guitar solo sounds like Pat Metheny dying in outer space with a distortion pedal. By the track's end, though, Barber lands on the simple, familiar, and kind Daniel Johnstonian line: "How are you?" Showing that tenderness is never far from ferocity and fulmination.
“Neverending Story” — a title jestingly yet affectionately taken from the 1984 beloved film — is a song more to do with romantic nostalgia than fantasy. Unraveling from a roiling intro, a warbled and cyclical major to minor seventh chord guitar figure emerges. Effectively matched with a clock-work hi-hat drum pattern, the mood is not simply that of longing but hopefulness. Its shifting chorus — with 3/4 time ascending guitar shapes, stutter-step drum crashes, and arpeggios somewhere between Sonic Youth and Bedhead — underpins Barber’s characteristically soft-spoken vocals. However, it’s with undeniable conviction that Barber evokes this reckoning lilt: of one’s past and what one chooses to remember.
Throughout KSB, musical storms rage and subside. Lyrics shift from fleeting thoughts of blissful meditation to detailed accounts of one’s past and pain. “34th & West” shares the deep joy, passion, and risk of moving-in with a loved one. “Dying Arts” playfully yet sincerely questions the fear of pursuing Art and Music as profession. Closing track “Light” sets the stage for the spark a lover can bring into one’s life despite the change of the seasons. It isn’t until hidden track — an altogether rubato-beautiful and unconventional guitar-duet snippet of the Jazz standard “All the Things You Are” — is the full range of emotions and styles of the album felt. Here, we find Barber at the height of his abilities in musicianship, songwriting, but most importantly, candid and heartfelt expression.
Kingdom Starlight Bliss will be available November 23rd on 12” transparent cyan vinyl (with 24"x12” lyric poster insert) via Long Beach label Porch Party Records.
EarMilk Premiere: “Perhapsy, the solo project of California-based Derek Barber, has released “The Curse (Is Getting Worse)," an intricate and coloured entanglement of guitar and Barber’s soft-spoken voice. He murmurs the questions “who are you?” and “what are you?” as the electric strings sew together a weighted and vast first single.”
Bandcamp Daily: "Barber sounds like he’s just inches away from us…his vocals hit with the insistence and proximity of a whisper. Yet the song’s lyrics, written stream of consciousness, are hard to decode, conjuring images that float by untethered to a particular narrative.”
East Bay Express: "Fluctuations in melody, and a compositional style that varies from layers of guitar, heavy, washed-out whispers, and reverbed, distorted vocals. His experimentation is mixed in with an innate understanding of pop melodies."
Derek Barber - vocals, guitars, bass. keys, samples, mandolin, etc
Aaron Gold - drums
Scott Brown - bass on tracks 2, 3, and 4
Christian Carpenter - bass on track 1
Madeline Kenney - background vocals on track 9