Barbarossa, the nom de plume of Londoner James Mathé, follows up his 2013 album Bloodlines with Imager, out 11th May on Memphis Industries. Imager is a cerebral, slow-burning album, tinged with melancholy and an alluring humanism.
Mathe’s musical journey started with folk-tinged balladry that saw him become part Fence Collective, and subsequently a band member for the likes of Jose Gonzalez, Johnny Flynn and Junip. With Bloodlines, however, Mathe started to infuse his song writing with electronic flourishes, and now with Imager, he has completed his transformation into a fully fledged electronic soul pioneer.
Working with co-producer Ash Workman (Metronomy, Summer Camp) Mathe builds on the foundations provided by his organic approach to song writing, to build elegiac electronic anthems that are filled with a simple, poignant immediacy.
Imager is pervaded with a sense of disquiet, perhaps driven subconsciously by the fact that the spaces where creativity and culture flourish in London are rapidly disappearing; that the artistic communities that Mathe grew up with are being driven out of London due to financial pressures, and as a result, something vital is being lost. Yet while the album deals in displacement and heartbreak, a sense that everything is in flux, there are redemptive moments to stir the soul.
‘Silent Island’ is perhaps the best example of this. Its melancholic refrain “this city holds no beauty for me”, giving way to a blissful yet propulsive chorus that suggests creativity will always find a way. Elsewhere, ‘Settle’ is the sound of dislocation in the big city, a questioning of how to respond to your surroundings as they become increasingly alien. The languid ‘Home’, which features a guest vocal from Jose Gonzalez, is the light to ‘Settles’ shade, it’s phrase “you’re one of the lucky ones…” providing reassurance and redemption.
Imager, then, is the sound of Barbarossa stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight as a talent to be reckoned with in his own right, questioning his surroundings, his own creativity and coming up with answers that are compelling, affecting and thoughtful.