Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009: Chris Bathgate Throatsleep

What is there to say about Chris Bathgate that hasn’t already been said? Not a whole lot. Therefore, my mission here today is not to lavish praise, but rather to tell you why you should check Throatsleep out. I chose this one instead of A Cork Tale Wake (which the library also owns) for one simple reason: it’s my favorite.

What Chris Bathgate manages to do on this album is make folk songs fierce. In fact, the first sound you hear is highly distorted electric guitar. His unique drawl may sometimes be soft, but it’s never weak. This along with his themes of coldness and loss make the album quite forceful and emotionally potent. Another thing Bathgate has mastered is sparseness. A single piano, a trumpet or a few notes plucked on a banjo focus the ear for a moment, drawing us in closer, making us anxious for what may come next.

And now, as usual, a little about a few of my favorite tracks. “Buffalo Girl” feels a lot like a traditional folk song with its bent guitar notes, harmonica and mostly soft vocals. The real magic (as is often the case with Bathgate) lies in the lyrics. “The one thing worse than nothing said/is two hearts howling like they’re going mad/And I know that I can’t handle that/’cause I’m a fumbling fake and a fucking fool/and that’s why I can’t fall in love with you/and why to and fro are all I do”. This is a sentiment you’ll hear a lot in Bathgate’s music, but I’m not sure it’s ever expressed quite so plainly anywhere else.

My favorite Chris Bathgate song is “I Know How You Are Gonna Die Tonight”. It’s actually kind of an odd song for him, in that it’s kind of jokey and a tinge novelty-y. Piano and guitar set a vigorous and slightly spooky beat and the vocals are stilted to match, declaring, “I thought it was common knowledge, way back when we were in…love”. The best line in the song is, “Sold my guitar for a diamond ring/so don’t you fret you pretty little thing/ ‘cause the simplest song for a corpse to sing is I know how you’re gonna die tonight”. The whole song seems like a gypsy spin on a murder ballad. It’s a tight song, with all its parts in place, including a wonderful banjo solo and a line delivered with what alternately sounds like laughter or indignance.

Finally, we have “Yes I’m Cold,” a perfect example of the beauty of sparseness on this album. The track starts with a simple melody played on a bell and spare percussion. Then the vocal, “Yes I’m cold, cold as ice and so now you know/how our story is supposed to go/ I say yes and then I say no”. This establishes the motif, which is played throughout by different instruments and voice. Noise, other voices and sirens drift in and out, but we’re always grounded in the motif established at the beginning.

Throatsleep is going to last the test of time for me. Every few weeks I’ll get the urge to hear it again, even if it’s to decipher a few more lyrics or to get that twinge in my heart from hearing that someone else feels like a “fumbling fake”. Bathgate’s voice, beautiful words and clear musical genius always keep me coming back.

You can find Throatsleep under the call number CD-1329 at the Ferndale Public Library. Visit Chris Bathgate at his myspace page: and his artist page at Quite Scientific:

When Chris Bathgate plays live, you never really know what you’re going to get. It could be the one-man-band-version, with a guitar, two mikes and a loop pedal; or the nine piece band with brass, drummer, keyboard and backup singers. No matter which version you see, you’ll be seeing one of Michigan’s finest musicians.

Chris Bathgate’s upcoming gig:

3/21/09 -- Blind Pig (Ann Arbor) with Frontier Ruckus and Charlene Kaye & Her Heroes

What You Should See This Week:

Monday 3/16/09 – Duende -- Canja Rave -- Dale Beavers -- Lager House (Detroit)

Tuesday 3/17/09 – Bill Grogan’s Goat – The Blue Leprechaun (Ann Arbor)

Thursday 3/19/09 -- Tokyo Police Club-- Born Ruffians -- The Honorary Title Crofoot Ballroom (Pontiac)

Friday 3/20/09 --Charlie Slick -- Champions of Breakfast -- Luna (Royal Oak)

Saturday 3/21/09 -- The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre -- The Esperantos – Smalls (Hamtramck)

Saturday 3/21/09 -- The Darts -- Big Mess – Prussia -- Divine Comedians -- Lager House (Detroit)

Saturday 3/21/09 -- Broken Spindles -- Marco Polio & The New Vaccines -- Rogue Satellites -- Croff Family Band -- Magic Stick (Detroit)

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