It’s hard to believe that Chris Bathgate is a young man. The voice and the emotions that pour out of him on his new release, Salt Year, seem to belong to someone much older. But if the internet is to believed, perhaps Bathgate is simply an old soul. Salt Year is a beautiful album from a folk-rock prodigy truly coming into his own.
Bathgate’s music is dreamy, whiskey-colored folk floating above a careful arrangement of guitar and piano, used only to augment the songs rather than lead them. Bathgate playing acoustic must sound pretty much like this album; everything is designed to show off his voice, and his voice is in fine form here. He’s distinctive enough to admire but subtle enough to allow your mind to wander through his songs.
“No Silver” is catchy and casual, loping at an easy pace through country-style guitar and some gentle percussion. “Poor Eliza” is a darkly quiet meditation on relationships: “It is what it is/what it is.” Its apparent companion, “Eliza (hue)”, sounds like Dispatch would if that band had a greater depth of emotion. Title track “Salt Year” is dreamy and sad, reflecting on lost loves in a melody that showcases the velvety texture of Bathgate’s voice. Album closer “Everything (Overture)” is a lovely, six-minute dalliance through a bare soundscape colored at first only by a lone guitar and Bathgate’s voice, featured in a quiet harmony that brings to mind the Once soundtrack. Gradually, horns and percussion flesh out the song into a fully loaded rambler. It’s startling when the music ends; you expect it to just keep going on into the sunset.
Chris Bathgate owns the voice and the melancholy of someone twice his age, and Salt Year packages enough charm to spare. This is the perfect background music for writing, drawing, or maybe just dreaming away the afternoon.