Less a greatest-hits than a brisk career summation to the point of its release, The Great Barrier is an enjoyable enough single-disc compilation from all of Soul Whirling Somewhere aka Michael Plaster's releases. Cherry-picking from the earlier albums and EPs and arranging the results in nonchronological order (two-thirds vocals then one-third instrumentals), The Great Barrier focuses mostly on the Hope Was and Please Send Help albums. As a result it captures Plaster in his slightly more stripped-down and focused mood, while the textured synth arrangements that first brought him to attention are spare in comparison -- only one song from his majestic debut Eating the Sea, "Not Breathing," appears. But this is a fairly limited complaint given the excellence of the material, and the song choices are apt, covering both Plaster's emphasis on exquisite melancholia ("The Last Time I Left," "Nani") and intentionally over-the-top humor in the service of same. Then again, titles like "I Should Throw Myself Under a Train" and "Every Female Werewolf Ever, Listed Alphabetically by Name" really couldn't be taken any other way. Either way it's a fine overview of Plaster's particular gift for softly sung emotional turmoil matched with a variety of low-key but attractive arrangements all performed by Plaster himself, outside of one drum performance on "The Great Barrier" itself, the closest the band has ever gotten to rocking out (albeit politely still). For the completist who already has everything, two other unavailable songs make a bow. "So Much," apparently recorded for the compilation, is enjoyable, Plaster in pseudo-rock-band arrangement mode and firing up the volume accordingly on the second half -- it could be a sign of the future, balancing it as always with his calm singing. "Stuck," an unlisted song from 1998, concludes the collection with acoustic guitar and slightly ragged singing, a charmingly rough demo of sorts.
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