After seeing him live and hearing various bits and pieces since then, I’ve been under the impression that James Mathé’s move away from his Barbarossa moniker was characterised by his rejection of guitars in favour of casiotone and drum machine beats. With reference to his new Memory Laps EP, I’ve been wrong all along, as these three new tracks see him embrace the ol’ six-string once more.
Mathé opens with a reworking of Bon Iver’s plaintive album closer ‘re:stacks’ that moves it away cabin-bound strumming and closer to shimmering bedroom pop, with gentle, floating synths backing up sometimes spindly, sometimes rich and reverb-laden guitar work. It’s a pleasant start but, to Mathé’s credit (or Justin Vernon’s denigration, I’m not sure), it’s a solid beginning to the EP, rather than the early show-stealer. ‘Turbine’ is easily the most surprising track here, and probably my favourite because of that. Setting itself up as a White Stripes stomper, Mathé’s leisurely vocals somehow warp this tried-and-tested garage format into something more funky and consistently engaging, with loud-quiet progressions the name of the game. Closing proceedings with ‘What Do We Know Love?’, Mathé returns to a more recognisably, but still distinct, set of musical conditions. A simple vocals ‘n’ guitar affair is aided immensely by some gentle background distortion and a wonderful sharpness to the guitar production that turns what could have seemed a perfectly good, if unremarkable track into something far more intimate and beautiful.
If I’m honest, I would have liked a little more than the three tracks I’ve been given here but that’s only because my interest has been well and truly piqued. After comparison to the last EP, my expectations of what James Mathé can offer in a full length has been completely rewritten with Memory Laps. From keyboard to fretboard, he seems to offer a Mathé-shaped interpretation to every genre he touches (see: ‘Pallyacho’ for minimal electro, ‘The Load’ for soul, and the afore-mentioned ‘Turbine’ and ‘What Do We Know Love’ for garage rock and folk-pop respectively) so God knows what he’ll do with eleven or twelve tracks worth of material. I can’t wait to find out.
That’s the entirety of the EP up there but, frankly, it’s currently £4 at Rough Trade, so why not just buy it? There’s only 200, so you’ll be in a little club. With me.