"Who is Matt Bartram?"
"And while we're asking, what the Hell is Arundel?
Not the faintest idea? Well as it happens, through sheer luck and coincidence I know the answer to both. Bartram is part of "Air Formation", an epic-sounding Shoegaze collective that fans of the Mogspeed scene may well find agreeable. With Air Formation, Bartram found himself sharing billing with the likes of Ulrich Schnauss and House Of Love. This solo offering came out of a desire to do something a little more experimental.
And the Arundel part? That's easy. It's a place. A very picturesque little town in England situated half way between the Sussex hillside and the coast. In the UK, it is famous for hosting cricket and having a rather splendid castle. (Editor's Note: The oldest part of the castle itself predates the Norman Conquest, just to put things in perspective.) A lesser-known fact, Arundel was also the inspiration for author Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. Though I'm not sure Mr. Bartram will thank me for associating his music with that arcane saga of decaying, crumbling ritual.
Bartram's music gets labeled with the oft-unwanted tag of shoegazing. It isn't totally unfair. At times Arundel treads familiar pedals. Yet Shoegaze does not paint the full picture. There are influences, certainly but Bartrum is mining a different vein to most. Where the likes of Ulrich Schnauss and Manual found inspiration from Slowdive, Bartrum has turned to Spiritualized and Spaceman 3 for the seeds of his ideas.
North Facing Window lynchpins Arundel with its relentless hookline. Structurally, most of these tracks eschew the traditional verse/chorus format in favour of languid grooves. They are all about rhythm rather than melody, and as a result Arundel becomes mesmerizing instead of being merely pretty. Although, that said, the spellbinding display of guitar work on Above is a thing of shimmering beauty by itself.
At times he overplays the drone element (View of the downs), but for the most part the effect is dynamic and thrilling. Another plus point - Bartram lends vocals to many of these tracks. I actually like his tones, a voice which, true to genre, has that breathy, faraway thing going on. Very warm. Very human.
This is the second record I've received from the Drifting Falling label following Televise. Each makes a good companion piece to the other. If you're into the nu-gaze, electronica thing, Arundel is class and will make a worthy addition to your collection. Does it have wider appeal? I'm not sure. I'd be (pleasantly) surprised if Matt Bartram cracked the industry wide open with this release. I think he'd settle for being the shining new light in a niche market.