STRANGE MAGIC: Thomas Barnwell of Picture One. Photo by Todd Briner.


Thomas Barnwell is, perhaps, best known as the co-composer of the score to director Adam Pinney’s 2016 film, The Arbalest, and as the guitar player with the now-defunct indie rock groups Thy Mighty Contract and the Orphins. Alongside his film-composing partner Ian Deaton, Barnwell also runs Deanwell Global Music, compiling and re-releasing LPs of ‘80s material by acts ranging from French new wave outfit Asylum Party to Atlanta synth-punks the Modern Mannequins. The label has also released cassettes such as Deaton’s score to the imaginary film Atlanta Crime Wave, along with titles from hardcore and blackened metal tormentors Rapturous Grief, Waste Layer, and the Haunting, the latter being an early project that featured Cloak’s singer and guitar player Scott Taysom.

When left to his own devices, however, Barnwell writes and records songs using the name Picture One. With his self-titled 2015 debut, and again with 2019’s Bright Spot and the Midnight Sun, Barnwell relied on abstract imagery and purely instrumental arrangements to build spectral atmospheres. However, the arrival of Picture One’s third album, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes, marks a profound change in his songwriting. Here, Barnwell fleshes out a stylish blend of European and American indie, gothic rock, and post-punk influences, culminating in spellbinding soundscapes, and reaching new heights in his songwriting. 

Barnwell’s  low-register, atonal singing brings a more personal and transcendent touch to the album.

“I started singing on this record because I wanted to process a lot of what I have been going through over the last couple of years,” Barnwell says. “I am trying to be more creative lyrically than I have been — I haven’t done lyrics in maybe 10 years, and I wanted that connection again. When you play stuff live, people really connect with vocals.”

What he was going through while writing the album is the timeless fodder of reflecting on a relationship that has come to an end, and the whirlwind of social, psychological, and emotional turbulence that comes along with such upheaval. To make sense of, and ultimately resolve, his cycle of dark feelings, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes summons the strength of unearthly forces. The album’s title is taken from the lyrics of “Love Spell,” a song in which Barnwell sings, “Because distant power is what it takes, and tubes of light lead to this place, spread the flowers and snowflakes, across the depths of seven lakes.” Here, a spell is cast to break through a sense of powerlessness over his circumstances.

“When I wrote the lyrics, I was sitting there, thinking about how I wished I could just do something,” Barnwell says. “I had this idea of magic as a proactive thing that people do because they’re in situations where they can’t do anything. The lyrics came out about someone who wants to conjure love,” he adds. “But in the end it becomes something that helps them to move on.”

The songs and lyrics take on a more honest approach to songwriting than anything Barnwell has offered in the past. Even when fronting the Orphins, songs such as “Sea Song” and “Lost In the Wild” from the 2009 CD Wish You Well (Adair Park) relied on symbolism over real-time, confessional songwriting. Still, the songs on Across the Depths of Seven Lakes sidestep traditional songwriting as Barnwell adopts a wholly different internal persona.

“Singing in a way that I don’t normally sing, and thinking from the perspective of someone else — playing the part of an imagined person, maybe someone who was in a band in the ’80s — helped me be more honest,” Barnwell says.

A palette of constrictive, bass-driven rhythms, heavy chorus, and barreling melodies drive the noisy and claustrophobic opening number “Resolute: The Absolute,” the melancholy pop of “Lily Pad,” and the monolithic EBM dirge of “Chaser of the World.” Each number hands in a balance of graceful and monolithic darkness, fostering a fully-formed concept album that’s fueled by a greater sense of urgency and variety than anything Barnwell has created with Picture One’s previous releases.

“I wanted the first album to be a dark and emotionally melodic record with roots in ’80s cold wave and goth and post-punk,” Barnwell says. “I also wanted to see if I could write something both memorable and catchy without vocals. I wanted to explore a certain sound that I’ve always loved but had never had a chance to with my previous bands.”

Three albums in, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes moves one step deeper and higher into the framework he’s built. — Chad Radford

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