Under the name Barbarossa, Londoner James Mathé creates thoughtful electronic pop that is moody and intimate, but provides its own quiet thrills. A bit of a journeyman musician, Mathé first began using the Barbarossa moniker in the mid-2000s, joining Scotland's Fence Collective long enough to release his 2005 folk-influenced debut, Sea Like Blood. The years that followed saw him adopt a more collaborative role, doing time in Johnny Flynn's band the Sussex Wit and backing up Swedish singer/songwriter José González before re-emerging in 2013 with a decidedly altered sound that was more pseudo-electronic pastiche than indie folk. Completing the transformation he made on 2013's Bloodlines, Mathé delivers Imager, a slow-burning, soulful set that fuses complex, atmospheric bedroom pop with the remnants of his more traditional songwriting approach. Even at its most uptempo moments, like on the dreamy title cut and the sensual "Human Feel," Imager has a pulse that evokes the late hours, and Mathé's expressive high tenor dips and dives through the layers of reverb and effects. A high point is the gently soaring, Mellotron-aided "Home," which features a very nice guest vocal from pal José González. It's one of the more immediately accessible songs on an album that occasionally gets a little lost in its own ambience, making it feel more like a mood piece than a collection of songs. Still, there is plenty of interesting stuff going on between the lines, and with a bit of patience, Imager's subtleties begin to unfurl quite nicely.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger