charlie barnes Oceanography (LP, £17.95)
Charlie Barnes announces Oceanography, his second album for Superball Music, with no fixed abode. OK, so that’s not strictly true; since the grandeur of his 2015 debut More Stately Mansions, the multi-instrumentalist has got married and moved to the Midlands - but the time he’s been able to spend there has been scarce. With the ink barely dry on his Superball contract, Barnes was asked to join arena-filling pop behemoths Bastille’s live line-up, thus swapping a life spent playing the backrooms and basements of the UK to some of the largest arenas and festival stages the world over. In contrast to his previous LP – largely recorded in one place with producer Oceansize guitarist Steve Durose – Oceanography is a story of snatched moments after tour rehearsals, late nights spent in far flung studios from Wales to Virginia, ideas sent back and forth over email and put down in fits and starts while on the road. At points it seemed like it would never come together, so it’s some achievement that it not only matches the attention- grabbing maximalist prog pop of More Stately Mansions, but builds and expands on that record’s foundations. “The last few years have been totally bonkers,” admits Barnes. “I was rarely at home, so I was doing a lot of arrangement work in dressing rooms and hotels on a tiny keyboard. I eventually took to carrying recording gear around with me so that I could make the best use of any free time.” Barnes had consciously decided even before joining Bastille that he wanted to make an album more honed and streamlined, so it is that much of Oceanography is built around pop hooks that although vast in sonics are earworm tight in their structure. There is a more consistent palette of sounds used throughout, with songs comfortable in shifting between newer synth explorations and reverting to long-held influences Oceansize and Amplifier – shining particularly prominently on tracks like Ruins and Maria. However, there’s no getting away from the impact that working with one of the UK’s biggest touring bands has had on his work. For one thing, Dan Smith himself pops up on backing vocals on Will & Testament - a track that arguably stands out in its pared-down synthetic feel compared to the string-tinged rock grandiosity of much of the rest of the album.
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