He’s a former member of José González’s backing band who released his first album on cult Scottish folk label Fence. You might have James Mathé (aka Barbarossa) pegged as a guitar-wielding troubadour, but the Londoner’s scope extends far beyond the realm of simple acoustic ditties.
Mathé has spoken in past interviews of his myriad influences, ranging from Bert Jansch and Fairport Convention to Sigur Rós and Sufjan Stevens. Bloodlines, his follow-up to 2008’s Chemical Campfires, pitches itself at the midpoint of those two extremes, creating atmospheric snapshots that crackle with electronics and simmer with a soulful warmth.
Much of that intimate glow is down to Mathé’s tender, expressive vocals. At times his delicate warble sounds like a beefed-up Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, but there’s an aching melancholy to his voice that resonates throughout all 10 tracks, augmented by lines like “In the end, where do we go, love?/I no longer look you in the eye” (The Endgame) and “Last night I felt the end was upon us, and I couldn’t breathe” (Seeds).
As personal and lyrically bleak as some of these songs are, Bloodlines is far from dreary. Varied and expertly paced, it moves from the slick funk of Turbine (one of several tracks that sound like a deconstructed soul song) through the metallic snap of Pagliaccio with no little flair. The funereal, organ-enhanced slow-drip of S.I.H.F.F.Y. and the swoonsome, ’50s-style torch song Saviour Self temper the austere beats, while his folk roots occasionally penetrate the electronic veil on the hypnotic if overlong Battles.
While the smudged fingerprints of acts as diverse as Jon Hopkins, The Human League and the González himself are generously daubed all over Bloodlines, it is Mathé’s quirky musical aptitude that brings them all deliciously and cohesively together. barbarossamusic.com Download: Turbine, Pagliaccio