On Whispers, his debut LP, the resemblance to Herbert can be striking. On "Brisk" and the title track, vocals—from Segilola and Elsa Hewitt—swoop over pared-back arrangements that could have come from Bodily Functions or Around The House. Like those early Herbert albums, Whispers looks to dance music more as a loose frame of reference than a set of rules to stick by.
While the occasional techno pulse might surface in something like "Static," Barley seems inspired more by organic rhythms. The album is awash with the sound of rain, splashes and waves. There's a series of interludes—"Frost," "Melt" and "Water Break"—where the natural process in the titles is mirrored in the music. The first evokes a jazz trio shivering on a wintry morning. The second and third thaw them out with warm eddies of flute and fluid hand percussion.
Though the aquatic allusions elsewhere might not be so explicit, the watery noises—like the substance itself—can distort your perceptions. On "Bird Season," for example, the looped birdsong feels more artificial than the electronics, which, by contrast, seem like something bubbling up through a forest floor. The whirring drone on "Bronze" could be an insect buzzing around your head. The multitracked vocals and synth washes of "Louie" flow like the tide.
"Daxamite" revisits Barley's earlier hip-hop-influenced output. Kashmere spits surreal comic book imagery over the album's punchiest beat—what could have jarred in the company of the more tranquil electronics surrounding it is instead brought into Whispers' narrative flow with a sample of distant thunder. It's just one sign of Barley's exacting approach to both sound and structure. He's an artist truly in his element.