The Barnabys typify the second generation of America’s indie-pop scene. The trio, formed in Philadelphia in 1990, grew up listening to all the right records; when they synthesize those sounds, the results can be either pop perfection or musical mediocrity. On Delightful Browns, singer/guitarist Joey Sweeney shows that he knows how to craft a good indie-rock song: one part off-kilter vocals (à la Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows), a chorus the kids can sing along with and a sense of naïveté to make it all endearing. The production is clean, crisp and radio-friendly when it counts — which, of the eight tracks, is only on “Global Teen.” More often than not, though, the group comes off as a second-rate Violent Femmes clone, all acoustic guitars and fractured vocals.
The ambitious Augustus Loop is much better. While it reprises three tracks from Delightful Browns, those previously forgettable songs come off stronger and well worth the second look. With a certain resemblance to the folk-pop sound of Small Factory, the Barnabys get by on Sweeney’s pleading adenoidal vocals, which contain more than a hint of Robert Smith’s weary charm. He sings about everything from feeling out of place in an upscale eatery (“Yuppie Restaurant”), to feeling out of place in the suburbs (“Wilmington”). Two nice touches by guests: the Garth Hudson-like organ Matt Keating adds to “Room 17” and the lovely violin Rosie Macnamara plays throughout.