not Robert Barnes – ‘Afraid To Fall Asleep’

Toronto-based artist not Robert Barnes crafts an affecting blend of pop, soul, and electronica throughout Afraid To Fall Asleep. The album is a showcase in both personal emotive introspection and the power of collaboration. Alongside Barnes, a variety of vocalists lend their own tonal and emotional depictions, captivating with collaborative power. Barnes notes that the recording, in a way, chronicles personal growth in the context of relationships, from ages 18 and 21.

The wintry piano lushness within “Memories (FarBehind)” opens the album with atmospheric intrigue. Wordless vocals diversify in pitch amidst melodic reflections, gearing into a palpable lyrical yearning: “Hallucinations kicking in, I think I saw you today.” The “no exposition,” chorus proves riveting in its grumbling bass line underlying and vocal admittances — “I was addicted,” — in relaying the pain and tribulations of moving on. The visceral emotion and atmospheric range, from nocturnal engrossment to twinkling piano additives, is an apt kick-off to an album with a consistently compelling breadth of deliveries.

Themes of recovery — “stitch me up,” — also persist on “Lo-Fi,” strutting a pop-forward savvy with involvement from Fndme., TruePilot, and Batya Belle. The “call it lo-fi,” hook touts a charismatic fervency. “I don’t wanna live sober, each day’s getting colder,” Batya Belle’s chilling vocal emergence takes hold, as sleepier synths guide into a soulful vocal re-assembly, with shades of James Blake. “Lo-Fi” balances pop immediacy with a late-night contemplative fascination, again showcasing Barnes’ compelling knack for atmospheric constructions and smartly constructed hooks alike.

Batya Belle’s chilly vocal tone also stands out on the captivating successes “Real” and “Abyss.” The former touts an impactful range, particularly as ghostly keys and serene vocals drive into a stutter-y invigoration — “playing games that don’t mean nothing,” — and flawless multi-vocal layering. The track thoroughly excels, from the murky bass-fronted initial focus into the subdued, delicate escalation into the riveting conclusion.

A breathtaking finale, “Abyss” builds from intimate piano-set balladry into moody pop bustling. “Fake it, I’ve been trying to make it,” the spirited vocal rise lets out alongside click-clacking percussive fervency. The seamless journeying from sparsely beautiful nighttime balladry and soulful pop energy closes the album appropriately, with one final example of Barnes’ thoroughly enveloping production — dazzling in their balance of genuine emotion within both piano-set minimalism and hook-fronted pop satiation.

A multitude of highlights persist throughout Afraid To Fall Asleep. The glistening keys and budding vocal momentum within “Ceramic” proves spellbinding in its ceaseless escalation, with Dylan Longworth’s additions resonating. Elsewhere, the dreamy, fit-for-rain composure of “Halo” develops with consuming precision into a delightfully dark R&B hook with shades of Frank Ocean. Full of atmosphere and emotion, Afraid To Fall Asleep is a fantastic album from not Robert Barnes.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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