Barbarossa: Bloodlines


Like the crumbling castles of yesteryear, musical genres are breaking down in the 21 century. Monolithic terms such as “rock,” “r&b,” “electronic,” “jazz” and the like are proving utterly unsatisfactory in describing modern music. Even subgenres – “indie rock,” “neo-soul,” “trip-hop” – no longer give much direction for music fans (and music-makers), who are omnivorous in their tastes. That’s what makes interesting projects like Barbarossa so difficult to describe. On a pure biographical level, it is the work of Londoner James Mathé, who has served as a key member of Jose Gonzalez’ backing band. But for his latest album, Bloodlines, Mathé moves away from mellow acoustics to a more complicated, electronic-based palate that encompasses Sufjan Stevens to Pharrell Williams.

Comparable to the rhythmically-diverse sounds of Alt-J (minus the florid vocal arrangements – Barbarossa is, in great part, a one-man show), Bloodlines shows off Mathé’s diverse influences. Some songs (“Pagliaccio”) fall into a traditional pattern of modern electronic pop, reminiscent of bands like Hot Chip.  Others have a more rock-based rhythm (“Turbine”), while still others (“Butterfly Plague,” “Savoir Self”) hang together on the strength of Mathé’s soulful vocals, which betray the influence of D’Angelo or his former bandleader. The keyboards which form the main musical thrust of the songs lean towards the vintage and analog sounds of Casio and Roland, yet are used in very contemporary ways. Even their label, Memphis Industries (The Go! Team, Field Music) can’t be pegged to one type of sound.  Trying to sum it all up seems a fool’s errand, so what better answer than to throw up one’s hands and let the listeners decide for themselves via a complete album stream as part of KCRW’s Album Preview!

- Eric J. Lawrence

Track List:

01. bloodline
02. turbine
03. butterfly plague
04. pagliaccio
05. s.i.h.f.f.y.
06. battles
07. the load
08. saviour self
09. the endgame
10. seeds