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.
It’s not that the previous incarnation of Barbarossa was a bad thing, but the sounds contained within Bloodlines are so powerful, you have to wonder why he didn’t make the change sooner. The record switches between playful, Hot Chip-esque dancefloor fillers and more soulful, gently introspective tracks, both of which are ideal for showcasing Mathé’s delicately beautiful voice.
It’s the former style that has captured the most attention from the wider world so far, with singles ‘Turbine’ and ‘Pagliaccio’ popping up regularly on across a number of radio shows. ‘Turbine’ succeeds by crossing the drums from ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ with a naggingly infectious guitar hook and a simple, effective vocal, while current single ‘Pagliaccio’ simply rifles through Hot Chip’s drawers and comes out with an absolute diamond.
While the more upbeat tracks grab the attention early on, it’s the more introspective numbers that typify the album as a whole, and are also what marks Bloodlines out as one of 2013’s finest so far. The intriguingly-titled ‘S.I.H.F.F.Y.’ is the standout, a majestic torch-burning slice of soul built around an absolutely heartbreaking chorus. As Mathé gently croons “I would break and shatter every bone to work this out you know” over the most minimal backing, it’s hard not to feel a shiver up the spine.
Close behind in terms of album highlights is the opener ‘Bloodline’, another track that relishes the less-is-more approach, simply organ swells slowly building towards another swirling, captivating chorus.
The rest of the record is just as captivating, with the only slight negative perhaps being a lag towards the end in terms of the momentum, the more ponderous tracks only enlivened by ‘The Load’s mid-tempo, pulsing beat. The more cynical might suggest Barbarossa is a bit tasteful, a bit coffee-table or lacking in any bite, but when the songs are as well-crafted and delivered as passionately as they are here, that argument becomes redundant. A great example of someone following their musical instincts into new areas and finding success, Bloodlines is also a highlight of the year so far.
8Aaron Lavery's Score