Release Date: Aug 6, 2013
Record label: Memphis Industries
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
These days, melancholic singer/songwriters seem to be emerging at a rapid pace. With great artists like Passenger and Greg Laswell expressing bare sentiments through wonderfully arranged music, the genre is as ripe and rewarding as ever. On his second LP, Bloodlines, Londoner James Mathé (aka Barbarossa) earns his place alongside his contemporaries, as he bleeds his heart and bares his soul with grace and fragility at every turn.
The fact that James Mathé – the man who to all extents and purposes is Barbarossa – used to release records through the Fence Collective and was a part of Jose Gonzales’ band, might lead you to thing that he’s a bit of a folkster. Indeed, his previous release under this moniker fit that bill, with 2008’s Chemical Campfires garnering a decent amount of acclaim. However, here on his second LP, there’s barely an acoustic guitar in sight, as Mathé ditches them in favour of classic keyboards, swirling organs and jittery drum rhythms.
The debut album from London's Barbarossa, 2013's Bloodlines, is an atmospheric and yearning set of songs centered around singer/songwriter James Mathé. In the past, Mathé contributed to projects by such experimental folk-leaning artists as Fence Collective and Jose Gonzales. Essentially a solo project for Mathé, Barbarossa picks up on the spare folk influence of his previous collaborations but expands the sound into a more electronic- and rock-oriented palette.
A member of Johnny Flynn and José González‘s backing bands, James Mathé – aka Barbarossa – is also more than capable as an artist in his own right. His debut album, 2009’s Chemical Campfires, received promising reviews and his move onto Memphis Industries – home of Field Music, The Go! Team and Dutch Uncles – shows a level of confidence but also a level of expectation. Mathé has been largely acoustic based, as his debut album and work with Flynn and González show.
Barbarossa means red beard in Italian, and that’s the sort of facial fuzz you’d expect of an acoustic singer-songwriter whose debut album, ‘Chemical Campfires’, came out on King Creosote’s Fence Records in 2007. But while James Mathé’s ginger fluff remains, the bucolic vibes do not. The closest ‘Bloodlines’ comes to rustic is its use of analogue synths and Casiotone keyboards.
Prior to Bloodlines, most of Barbarossa’s tunes subsisted on organic instruments. This record, however, is anything but. But just because he’s switched to electronic music, that doesn’t mean that London’s James MathÃ¨ has left his acoustic sensibilities behind. In fact, much of Bloodlines, while created with Casiotone keyboards, drum machines and analog synths, actually sounds as though it could just as easily be covered on guitar, unplugged from anything but MathÃ¨’s own deep-seated conviction that music should be a form of catharsis.