Astounding, is the best term to describe the latest work of Aidan Bartley, Irish by birth but universal in spirit. “Listen to the Sound Waves”, the name of the CD immerses us in a torrent of emotions, which also combines the magic of Dead can Dance, the melancholy of Roger Waters, the intimacy of Peter Hammill and the romanticism of Michael Nyman.
Aidan Bartley was born in the troubled city of Belfast in 1966. In 1972 his family moved to England on account of the disastrous effects of “troubles” on his father’s business. After leaving university Aidan traveled extensively to many parts of the world with long sojourns in Israel, Germany and Spain (3 years in Zaragoza).
However it’s Berlin that he has settled in. Inevitably his music can’t be distanced from such an accumulation of influences which could result in confusing styles. Nevertheless, it has produced a completely opposite effect: it has enabled him to enrich his music by conferring on it a very personal style.
For Aidam, voice, piano, mandolin and double bass are the most important components of this work. However, with additional support he has cleverly put together an ensemble which comes close to the perfection he is seeking. Accompanying him are Snorre Schwarz on percussion and voice, Dawn Ni Loingsigh (voice), his wife Julia (piano), el Abraxas String Quartet (Martin Roth, Lisa Weib, Tim Erik Winzer y Anreas Vob), David Hull (double bass), Wilf Moss (piano and voice), Sanja Fister (vibraphone), Claudia Schnürer (accordion and voice), Florian Grupp (harmonium), George MacLean (soprano sax), Stefan Pahlke (tuba), Jochen Schröter (clarinet), Johanne Braun (oboe), Miriam Werner (French horn) &Thomas Klupsch (French horn). I would like to highlight two sections, on the one hand, the string instruments, particularly the violin, across which Aidan believes “you can hear the soul of the interpreter”. But in my opinion, the role of the piano has also a remarkable effect in this disc. I don’t know if the real pianist is Aidan or his wife Julia. What is certain, is that we find the most moving movements in the piano notes.
The disc opens with one of the best themes “Lonely Planet” (5:46) which suggests and sustains Germanic decadence, enveloping everything with a touch of melancholy that doesn’t let you go. The following short track “Lament” (3:11) continues on the same lines, with the omnipresent piano. You find yourself submerged in a passionate cycle of voices, laments, violins,… where you find yourself trapped in an atmosphere of suffocating beauty. It’s a shame that it doesn’t last a little longer.
“Tango” (3:34) is an instrumental theme which transports you to the Berlin cabarets of the twenties but also crisscrosses it with somber notes –Zappa, comes to mind-. It’s only an interlude before “Holy Grail” (2:58), another great song; simple but with a beautiful melody whose verses are caressed one by Aidan’s voice, in the style of Peter Hammill. Certainly delightful.
“Las Olas” (2:31) is one of those tracks that could be placed on the edge of dark folk, similar to White Willow, Ataraxia or Gor. Again we have the dominance of the piano, slowly giving way to the saxophone, vibraphone, oboe and percussions.
“Salutation Street” (5:16) is a sad story that starts with an ambience that reminds me of Water’s “Nobody Home” or “Paranoid Eyes”. Unfortunately this hypnotic depressing air develops into something more or less akin to Nyman’s classic style as in “The garden is becoming a robe room” or “Fish Beach”.
“Bogart” (4:37) has a similar style to “Las Olas” but with greater force of percussion and vibraphone which is gently substituted by the piano little by little. Ed Macan and the suite “Against the Grain” could serve as a reference point to identify this style.
“Night Train” (3:57) breathes a cheerful and optimistic air in the style of the Beatles of the late sixties.
“Acapella” (2:18) is a further interlude in the disc resorting to the air of “Las Olas” or “Bogart” –percussion, vibraphone, etc- which gives way quickly to “Burden” (2:50), an unclassifiable track. It could at times be considered Germanic but with its magnificent instrumentation and its touch of Cohen’s ambience, it seems more appropriate to place in the Bartley style.
“Un Caso Sinistro” (7:52) is the highlight of the album. Referring to the sad case of two children who committed suicide, Bartley touches one’s feelings with a heartfelt combination of instruments and voices. I can assure you that is one of the most moving compositions I have ever heard. Aidan’s voice asserts itself after a minimalist beginning in the style of Nyman’s “The Piano” with a dialogue “in off”. Constantly soaring over everything is the siren-like lament of “Dawn Ni Longsigh”.
“Whiter Dawn” (2:33) fulfils the task of rounding off with another minimalist composition, with the piano as the lead instrument, leaving you wishing for more. I would like to point out Bartley goes a step further in what is considered minimalist by abandoning the usual laboratory formula and opting instead for the emotional and vibrant whish we find, for example, in the central theme in “The Piano” or “Iris” or “La femme de nulle part” of Wim Mertens; sweeping circular melodies, charged with emotion, demonstrating real skill.
This is an accomplishment that won’t disappoint a wide range of people, such as followers of Ataraxia, the Pink Floyd of “The Final Cut” or White Willow. Without a shadow of a doubt I couldn’t recommend this wonderful discovery strongly enough to all lovers o progressive-symphony that are not content with the usual and are searching for beauty.