Release Date: 09/03/2018
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. Smith’s inclusion came after he’d asked to hear what Barnes had been working on while out on tour with them, but his mark on the album is more diffuse that a guest cameo: “Being with Bastille during the making of their second album, I got to hear how some of those songs took shape over time, from small changes to entire reworks” he says. “I think that helped me to be a bit more cut-throat with my own songs and try to streamline things a bit.”
It’s a long way from his beginnings as a solo artist, armed with an array of loop pedals, a keyboard and a vocal mic, and thematically Oceanography is a record that addresses his inner conflicts as an artist, the idea of 'making it' and what that even means, while at the same time dealing in a heavy sense of self-awareness that such inner turmoil pales in the context of wider issues currently facing the world.
With Oceanography, Charlie Barnes gives himself more than a fighting chance. A record of grace and poise amidst the sonic fireworks, it’s a testament to the confidence that he has in himself artistically, emerging from the chaos as a stunningly realised piece of work.
3. Will & Testament
6. One Word Answers
7. The Departure
9. Former Glories
11. All I Have
12. The Weather