“Melds blue-eyed soul and electronica to addictive effect… exquisite” - The Times
“A great example of someone following their musical instincts into new areas and finding success” - Drowned in Sound
“Mathé employs his soft soul falsetto over juddering beats, double-time drum claps and a synth riff… a revelation” - The Guardian
Barbarossa, the nom de plume of Londoner James Mathé, follows 2013 album ‘Bloodlines’ with ‘Imager’ on Memphis Industries. ‘Imager’ is a cerebral, slow-burning album, tinged with melancholy and an alluring humanism.
Mathé’s musical journey started with folk-tinged balladry that saw him become part of the Fence Collective and subsequently a band member for the likes of José González, Johnny Flynn and Junip. With ‘Bloodlines’ Mathé started to infuse his songwriting with electronic flourishes and now, with ‘Imager’, he completes his transformation into fully fledged electronic soul pioneer.
Working with co-producer Ash Workman (Metronomy, Summer Camp) Mathé builds on the foundations provided by his organic approach to songwriting, 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 Mathé 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 José González, is the light to ‘Settles’ shade; its phrase “you’re one of the lucky ones...” providing reassurance and redemption.
‘Imager’ 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.