To know Barry Uhl is to know a profound interconnectedness. Our most obvious example is his current project, and what begs me to be sitting down in an attempt to describe him in the first place: the illustrations, stories, and soundtrack known as An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob.
Conceptualized after one of those lightning-bolt conversations with a coworker in Jackson Hole, Wyoming almost eight years ago, Wretched Knob is a snapshot into the world according to Barry. The project was birthed as one piece: an album with a book of stories and illustrations, with no separation between. Like lost moments deep in the stacks of incredible albums, happening upon the shiniest gem in the dustiest bin, Wretched Knob is an experience; one laden with dark landscapes and a lush narrative on an XTC-steeped baroque-pop fringe.
Barry should know his deck of cards by now, and he does: he grew up leaning into the music scene, first in Aberdeen, then Seattle; earned a music composition degree in his college years, and eventually got turned on to Gorey and expanded the tack he’d always had for illustration as a young adult. His personal catalog is vast, having put in his ten thousand hours under several disciplines, and spends time these days as a full-time artist, working on a bevy of his own projects and touring with Damien Jurado as part of his live ensemble.
We can’t really talk about Barry without talking about his records. He knows when the perfect choice is the obvious one (like my penchant for the first four sides of All Things Must Pass on a Sunday morning), but also has the discernment to know why Queens of the Stone Age really knocked it out of the park on Songs for the Deaf, or exactly how those psych-tinged Of Montreal albums were cool before the world at large figured out they were cool. After a few short months listening to his records, the connectedness has rubbed off on me: I can’t get enough of the Dukes of Stratosphear, for example, and understand that those last two cuts on side one of The Notorious Byrd Brothers are as close to being musical gems as songs can get. This is shaping the way I frame the art I make, as well as the art I take in, rendering me forever changed.
Just as record collections themselves, and just as Barry himself, this is not something to be undertaken with a passing glance. It calls your attention — maybe a bit offhandedly, like a loving but self-sufficient cat — and asks for you to sit and experience it, which is a tall order in the onslaught-ocean of new music we are oft pummeled with today. As that careful choice of record proves to move any given moment from good to great, so will this project move you, should you choose to accept the challenge.
The art we ingest shapes us, and in turn, the art we create shapes others. The connectedness connects us. And this project will shape you, if you let it.
Editor, An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob