Charlie Barnes, former loop-pedalist and one-man-band-maestro who progressed to being a touring member of Amplifier before further progressing to become a touring member of Bastille. It’s fair to say he’s come a long way over the last decade. It’s also fair to say he’s been incredibly busy. Consequently, as the accompanying blurb explains, the creative process for this project has been a fragmented, disjointed one: ‘‘Oceanography’ is a story of snatched moments after tour rehearsals, late nights spent in far flung studios from Wales to Virginia, ideas sent back and forth over email and put down in fits and starts while on the road’.
It's remarkable that is has any cohesion, but the fact is it’s a very ‘together’ work. Granted, it starts like some Muse-influenced post-rock opera, but it does get better.
‘Oceanography’ explores expansive spaces, with rolling piano and chiming guitars providing the signature elements of this prog-pop exploration. It’s strong on melody and mellow tones and supple, easy-groove beats dominate. It’s definitely more Bastille than Oceansize or Amplifier, and even the more guitar-orientated tracks, like ‘Bruising’ sound more like Muse and the bands Barnes grew into his current place from. ‘Ruins’ is Radiohead circa ‘The Bends’
It’s accomplished accessible, melodic, and the songs are well crafted and equally well realised. And yet I can’t help but feel a small pang of sadness for something lost as I remember the young guy who stood in the middle of the audience, howling his guts out and emanating anguish one weekday evening in York back in 2013, or the even younger guy who faffed about with a loop pedal in 2009 when again propping up a bill headlined by the Mancunian prog juggernauts.
‘Oceanography’ is nice, and very accessible. Which also means it’s a shade bland and unchallenging for the most part. It does have some compelling moments – such as the swelling instrumental section in the second half of ‘One Word Answers’ – but a fair bit of it’s a bit, well, Bastille. Which means that with the right exposure and breaks, Barnes could be massive.