Barbarossa - Imager - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Barbarossa - Imager

by Justin Pearson Rating:6 Release Date:2015-05-11

Under the apt Barbarossa moniker - meaning 'red beard' in Italian - London-based artist James Mathe makes electronic music with an indie sensibility fronted by lightly soulful vocals. But where contemporaries like Caribou (aka Dan Snaith) manage to apply a similar, yet more solid aesthetic to the genre, Mathe's ideas seem incomplete, and the resultant adhesive isn't quite as strong, or compelling. His latest album Imager has possibility, but it stays in shallow waters, never going deep enough to adequately capture the awaiting treasure.

The most exciting moment happens at the beginning on title track 'Imager'. The delicate pacing and layering of beats makes its cumulative power unexpected. Its catchiness creeps up on you and by the time it's over you wish there was more. However, the rest of the album follows a downward trajectory and finds its place in a comfortable stasis.

Some songs feel like they're building to something, but give out before they can really deliver. Sparse arrangements supply sufficient room to breathe, like the Jose Gonzalez-guested 'Home', yet it never fully sucks in the potential, instead smelling of predictability and boredom in its exhalation. 'Solid Soul' isn't much different. It remains comfortable exploring a blandly dynamic territory, fluctuating only slightly.

Imager is not completely devoid of substance. 'Nevada' is spaced out evenly in its construction and seems to reach for greater heights than previous tracks. 'Dark Hopes' turns its sad subject matter into an ultimately optimistic rally against the unfairness of suffering. 'Human Feel' pulses with a wobbly, pregnant bass that calls to mind Caribou's

off his album Swim. Besides the title track, it's one of the better, more fully fleshed out spots on the album.

For the most part, though, Imager suffers mildly for being formulaic and safe. Nowhere is this more true than on 'Silent Island'. On a song about getting away from city life, you'd expect more of an excited relief after hearing it, but it builds to an almost-climax and just ends up being repetitive in the end.

It takes an artist with bigger chops to stand out among all the innovators of today. Who knows, maybe Mathe doesn't care anyway. Or maybe he's purposely holding back and saving his all for that perfect creative moment. Imager proves that at least he's trying.

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