Paul Ion Barker has certainly kept busy over the years, and with the release of The Eternal Present, it’s gratifying to know that his Lead into Gold solo project was chief among his creative priorities. Five years since The Sun Behind the Sun, Barker has clearly put forth a considerable effort to refine and strengthen his prowess as a composer, while still delving further into esoteric sonic exploration. Those expecting some callback to the WaxTrax! era a la “Faster Than Light” had best be prepared; there are no obvious hits on The Eternal Present, though the album does possess some of the strongest melodies that Barker has yet delivered.
What is perhaps most striking about this album is Barker’s singing ability, for although still drenched in various effects, the actual timbre of his voice shines through and exhibits a greater tonal command than any of his past outings. This is immediately noticeable on the opening title track as eerie and droning layers of gritty synths and chunky stabs of guitar gradually build beneath a rather funky bass line; he enters with the line “This is how crime begins,” followed by ghostly refrains that demonstrate balance and control, but hinting at a seething fury ready to be unleashed. On the other end of the spectrum is “The Sea The Sun The Past The Sum,” in which Barker sings some lovely lines atop rhythmic layers of bubbling synths and muscular drums, the howls of bass, guitar, and electronic feedback creating a vibrantly noisy counterpoint to his voice in a manner reminiscent of Peter Gabriel at his most elusive.
If any song on The Eternal Present were to be referred to as a hit, “She Lies Beyond” would likely be a contender for such a title as it contains the catchiest chorus on the record, as lines like “Meanings buried deeply in this song” and “Leaving jagged lines of broken prose” are accentuated by the snappy drumbeats. Furthermore, the lead bass and sneering electronics create an enticing tableau that belies the song’s near eight-minute length, giving it a sense of force and immediacy. Even when Barker adopts a more monotone character as on the somewhat groovy yet guttural “The Surface” or the snarling “A Thousand Licks,” there is a disquieting sense of harmony amid the rancorous energy of the instrumentals, while the dreamy “Tell Me Again” concludes the record with spectral waves of psychedelic ambience and ghostly vocals that eventually dissipate into a processional and sudden quiet.
Throughout the album are plenty of experimental touches of aural manipulation and production savvy that guarantee newfound discovery with each listens, making the title of The Eternal Present all the more potent. Like the previous record, patience is still required to navigate some of the more cryptic compositional avenues Barker drives through, but it seems he has found the alchemical formula necessary to balance these with more direct and expressive songwriting. The results shine as brilliantly as the sun that appears so frequently in Barker’s titles.