Album review: Thomas Bartlett – Shelter

Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett - Credit: Archant

Bartlett’s debut is an open invitation to float gently through pools of calming piano

Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett - Credit: Archant

Experienced composer and producer, Bartlett – who’s the pianist in The Gloaming, has toured solo as Doveman, played with The National and Anohni among others and produced Yoko Ono, Sufjan Stevens and St Vincent – fronts a record under his own name for the first time.

Shelter is a sequence of eight piano “nocturnes”, recorded at the beginning of lockdown across the pond in New York City, Bartlett’s home for the last 21 years.

The album’s back story is a stark reminder of that time – on the first day of lockdown, Bartlett walked the five miles from home to his studio in Manhattan, passing maybe five people over the course of 100 blocks, and through a deserted Times Square.

Compounding the shock and distress, only a day earlier he had said goodbye to his partner, who had to fly back to England.

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It’s easy to see these songs as a shield from the uncertainty and fear lapping at his feet, and those of virtually every city-dweller the world over; Bartlett found solace in composing these delightful nocturnes, naming each after a rose in a deliberate obfuscation of meaning in favour of feeling.

Best taken in as an album, Shelter is a passport to that oft-elusive escapism, all soft notes and plenty of space left for them to ripple into the silence.

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Phoenicia’s inquisitive and expressive top line dabbles above a pensive and languorous counter-melody that anchors the song, while Rubrifolia’s recurring melody unfurls daintily towards the sun.

Multiflora’s beauty lies in its eddies and gently babbling motifs, and the delicate tip-toeing of Xanthina calms the nerves like an aural Xanax (without any of the side effects).

While it might be his first stab at a solo piano record, Shelter invites favourable comparisons with other modern classical composers like Max Richter, Ludovico Einaudi, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, and Chilly Gonzales’ Solo Piano series. A considered record, it’s all the more remarkable for being composed from scratch in just 48 hours. Born during a time of panic, Shelter is a timeless record of refuge.

4/5 stars

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