As a Motherfucker by Quinton Barnes album review by Leslie Chu. The singer/songwriter's forthcoming release comes out on January 8th

Grimalkin Records

8.5

Quinton Barnes

As a Motherfucker

Grimalkin Records had a breakout year in 2020. As a non-hierarchical, collectively run label focusing on queer and BIPOC artists, they became a standard for all others to aspire to. Grimalkin also released horrorcore rapper Backxwash‘s album God Has Nothing To Do with This Leave him Out of It, which won the Polaris Music Prize last October. Now, Grimalkin is starting off 2021 hot: Montréal-based singer Quinton Barnes is steering the label into the new year with his ambitious, indefinable new album, As a Motherfucker.

The key to As a Motherfucker is that Barnes leaves the listener wanting more. The 11 songs hover around a very standard three minutes, but they somehow whiz by. And just as you start settling into one of his songs, it skids from one style, tempo, or mood to another. He blends pop, R&B, and electronic dance into a unique, unpredictable whole.

Barnes’ emotions take as many turns as his music. He infuses his songs with bravado – when he’s not being needy or consumed by lovestruck awe. On the devotional “Heartbeat,” he’s the one who wants to fulfill someone else’s needs. “I gave it all up for you. I gave my life up to you,” he sings, before getting defensive: “I’m not the one to fuck with. Don’t try to push your luck, babe.”

On “Visuuur – ei,” he’s confident and independent, maybe even defiant and stubborn. “I’m never gonna cry for help. I’m never gonna sell myself. … I’m never gonna waste time on you,” he declares. Here, he also wrestles with identity and true selves, both his and others’. “You wish to cut me down to size, but I ain’t budgin’. I seen the truth past your disguise. You ain’t got nothin’.

… I’m glad to say now I know better now. I’m glad that I know me better now.” Sometimes Barnes is carefree. “I go whichever way the wind goes. I lose myself along the way,” he croons on the shimmering “Kolibri.” But on this same song, he acknowledges that he has to face whatever’s eating at him. This is a victory he must secure if, as he continues, he wants to be somebody and make myself anew.

Barnes further bares his insecurity on the sizzling, glistening “Harmony.” He’s afraid to show his inner self, fearing his image is on the line. Racked with self-doubt, he questions what it means to be free, alive, and a man if he can’t break through and let others in.

As a Motherfucker works on tension. “Switch” could be an absolute banger, but Barnes never indulges all the way. Regardless, the song’s deadly beat is an appropriate backdrop as he raps about feeling undervalued and abandoned by his friends and family. “Fuck ’em all. Got a love. I don’t need ’em at all.” I can taste the bitterness in my own mouth.

How ever Barnes feels at a given moment on As a Motherfucker, he’s always a maximalist. “I fall in love I’ll never take it slow. I’d rather push it all the way. I wanna get lost in somebody. I want to find myself through you.” These words on “Kolibri” hit like a disclaimer or warning. On the frustrated “Softer Than Thou,” Barnes sings, “I’m so hung on you, baby.” But over the song’s wobbly beats and sandy scrubbing effects, he declares that he doesn’t want to be in love. On the simmering next track, “How I Feel,” though, he once again walks back the sentiment: “I swear to God I love you. … I swear to God I need you. Say twice I’ll never leave. You turn me on, yeah, and that’s just how I feel when we’re all alone.”

The biggest lesson Barnes arrives at might be on the light-bathed “Never Could Be.” Here, he manages to let go of his hardships. At the very least, he makes a commitment to do so and be more selfless. “I’d rather go my separate ways. It’s fine. Some things are better off just lost in time. … So I let it die in me just so I can set it free.” He learns to let go of that which he can’t control. He learns that all things end, and it’s natural. A thick churning beat pushes this song skywards. Lost in the clouds, it sounds as if elation sets over him as he reaches these
epiphanies.

On As a Motherfucker, the emotions are messy, and the music is restless. But how ever Quinton Barnes is feeling – whether the impressive newcomer is battling his insecurities or floating on a cloud of self-assurance and devotional love – you can believe he’s being honest. With you. With himself.

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