Chris Bartels - Myths and Mold (2017)

Myths and Mold / Album Video Teaser #1:

Written by Charles Hatton, posted by blog admin

Chris Bartels ranks among the finest of the modern day breed of singer/songwriter whose liberal blending of electronica, jagged alternative guitars, and atmospheric and frequently multi-tracked vocals has become a viable artistic vehicle for many. Bartels, however, resolutely avoids outright imitation. He used the style to help accentuate his impressionistic soundscapes, but there’s always a sturdy tether to songwriting fundamentals that grounds these songs in a recognizable world. Bartels’ lyrics have an elliptical quality, but he achieves a poetic unity of lightly theatrical suggestiveness coupled with genuinely reflective and carefully wrought musical arrangements. The production has an unique challenge in capturing this musical vision, but Bartels is quite successful. His musical acumen extends to a spot behind the console and the detailed rendering these compositions receive is a critical factor in the EP’s success.

The second EP under his own name begins with the song “Blind”. It has great urgency and shows a penchant for orchestration in its steady ascent from a relatively muted beginning into much more cinematic fare by the song’s mid way point. Bartels’ tendency towards massing his vocals in a multi-tracked, choral style enhances the performances a great deal without ever sounding too pretentious or overwrought. The memorable guitar figure powering much of “Missoula” doesn’t present itself immediately but, along with another memorable vocal, becomes the standout elements of this performance. He brings some ambient effects into this performance, as well, that are artfully touches rather than corny or affected.

We hear another side of his musical character with the next two tracks. “Stay” comes off as his nod in the ballad tradition, but Bartels’ songwriting sensibility roams a stranger sonic landscape than anything you’ll hear on mainstream radio. The piano playing is the tip off – it has an elegiac, even slightly melancholy, aspect not shared by the previous tracks but, even here, Bartels has a personal mission to keep things a little off kilter. The drumming on this performance has an unusually aggressive, but curt, structure and hints at stormier emotions just under the song’s surface. The EP’s title song “Myths and Mold” is, without question, the release’s biggest envelope pusher. Bartels, for the majority of the song, all but abandons traditional structure in favor of making a different impact on the listener. The song is the shortest on this release and it’s interesting to hear how adeptly Bartels achieves the same effects on a much smaller canvas while never compromising his sound. The EP’s closing track “Counting Hands” has a martial beat not quite filled out and brings guitar back to the fore  after being largely absent in the preceding two songs. It gives the EP a nice exclamation point that is obviously carefully considered and has a rousing feel, in its own way, much like the middle and second half of the opener. Myths and Mold shows off the depths of intelligence in Chris Bartels’ writing and suggests further efforts in this vein will only gain merit and luster.