It’s been more than three years since we heard something new from Minneapolis’ Chris Bartels. Starting a family can do that to you. A new mouth to feed has a way of upsetting schedules and reordering priorities.
This new work captures Bartels’ domesticity in more ways than one. “I embraced imperfections and made a point to step outside my comfort zone in the studio,” he writes in the album’s notes. “From hearing the wood floor creak in piano recordings while my family walked around upstairs, sampling in washing machine sounds via iPad, sending synths and vocals out to guitar pedals, recording unplugged electric pianos or using my body as drum triggers, each song was created in a unique way.”
That mix of practicality and musical creativity lends the record an honest, personal feeling. There is a moment at the end of a lovely piano solo on “Offers of Peace,” where Bartels’ piano bench squeaks as he shifts his weight. It reminds us that we haven’t just heard a beautiful composition, we’ve heard the recording of a richly nuanced performance and all the ambient sound that comes with it.
Each of the 10 pieces are representations of Bartels’ memories. From the birth of his child to a walk in the woods, each has meaning to him.
That adds somewhat to our appreciation of Skylight. But its success lies less in its backstories than in its wonderful compositions. This is a picturesque ambient album, with unique lo-fi touches that make it all the more relatable.
Skylight is Bartels’ fourth album. Clark and Katylin Strasburg add guitars and vocals respectively.