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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Barbarossa’s ‘Bloodlines’ displays creator’s deft composition

    Barbarossas Bloodlines displays creators deft composition

    Musicians are rarely happy only working on one type of music. Often, they branch out into other genres, but find little success, failing to capture the spirit of whatever medium they’re trying to adopt. London-based multi-instrumentalist James Mathé, part of both José Gonález’s live band and Gonález’s psychedelic folk outfit Junip, returns to center stage with his second full-length release under the Barbarossa moniker, last used on 2007’s Chemical Campfires.

    Though Barbarossa could be easily dismissed as a side project, having only three EP or LP releases over seven years, Mathé’s approach is anything but half-baked. On Bloodlines, out Aug. 6 on Fence Records, Mathé shifts as radically far from any resemblance to a typical singer-songwriter.

    He maintains his silky falsetto from the album opener “Bloodline” to the end of the record, but “Bloodline” itself is an introduction into Barbarossa’s newest incarnation that nicely sums up Mathé’s approach. Layered with an organ-mimicing synth line and a plodding backbeat, “Bloodline,” like the rest of the record, relies on using empty space in its production rather than filling it with instrumentation.

    While Bloodlines is labeled under “electronica,” it’s really a more sparse, vocal-driven pop that does well to serve Mathé’s minimalism. That same restraint also lets Mathé’s vocal ability shine, placing it at the forefront of both the mix and Barbarossa’s writing.

    No track quite showcases Mathé’s range like “Pagliaccio,” a Joy Division-leaning gem that uses a hooky, soaring chorus to push the song along. There’s a lot of Casiotone synth elements here that are reminiscent of ‘80s electronic pop without the synthetic sheen of an intentional throwback track. “Battles” centers around swirling guitars that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Death Cab For Cutie album.

    It’s the least electronic of any track on Bloodlines, sitting on a GarageBand drum sample that somehow loses its kitsch when Mathé lays down the lines, “With you on the inside, Mama, my left and my right / I win these battles of mine,” forcing you to stop and listen. It’s the most beautiful and dense track on the album, yet those two accolades do not go hand in hand.

    Such particular selection in production is going to lead to some haunting results, and “Saviour Self” is the most spectral of all. It launches with an arpeggiated, reverbrating riff that wouldn’t be out of place at a sock hop or in a children’s lullaby. Soft, jazz-like drumming and Mathé launching into his most upper registers makes “Saviour Self” one of _Bloodlines_’ most unexpected yet poignant moments.

    However Barbarossa is still a side project, even when the production and introspective lyricism is as spot-on as Bloodlines. It does lack a sense of linearity, shifting from one emotional state to the next without any context or lead in. A track rearrangement could solve the issue, but regardless, Mathé’s breadwinners are his work with other acts.

    Bloodlines leaves the impression that while the record seems to be a place to express his other musical sentiments, Mathé is an undeniable powerhouse in terms of composition, raw talent and writing — if only he could string his chapters together.

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