Thomas Bartlett has recently released a collection of eight stripped back piano nocturnes written as a love letter to his partner, British actress and singer Ella Hunt, as well as to New York City itself. In just two days, Bartlett recorded the album in his home following the beginning of lockdown.
With a long-standing music career that has spanned over two decades, Thomas Bartlett’s remarkable career has seen the musician, composer, and producer performing around the world both as Doveman and alongside The National, David Byrne, Nico Muhly, Anohni, and his own much-acclaimed super-group, The Gloaming. As a producer, the Vermont-born Bartlett has collaborated with a number of high profile artists including St. Vincent, Rhye, Yoko Ono, Mandy Patinkin, and Sufjan Stevens.
The day after lockdown began in New York City was a surreal one. Thomas Bartlett walked the five miles to his studio in Manhattan and passed maybe five people over the course of 100 blocks; Times Square was significantly empty. Only the day before Bartlett had said goodbye to his English partner, Ella Hunt, who had to fly back to the UK. And now? “I was getting flashes of, Am I dreaming? This can’t quite be right,” he recalls, “And wait, did Ella actually just leave yesterday? It just felt insane.”
There is a stirring romanticism in Frédéric Chopin’s nocturnes that was revelatory to Bartlett, as a kid – one that seemed to spin entire worlds into being. But he’s been deliberately trying to avoid trying to recreate that style himself. With Shelter, Bartlett’s first solo album, you can expect lullabies and dreamy, shimmery piano nocturnes. Opener, Lucida, is warm yet bare, and also multi-toned. Rubrifolia has all the feels of underscoring a drama, – whilst Xanthina seems to begin slow, and then moves into a wandering journey of a track. Multiflora is my personal favourite, with many elegant deft melodic turns, and some head nods to Michael Nyman’s The Piano score.
Delicate and vulnerable melodies, it perhaps evoke a feeling from this lockdown. Suggestive of being blue, this piano has soothing qualities and the drama evoked with these keys is heightened by the entirely solo element to these nocturnes. With a fondness for roses, the album is compiled of tracks titled with rose names, indicative of it’s beauty and a wonderful listen in these uncertain times.
Shelter is out now, via Modern Recordings