Ann Arbor based indie folk singer Chris Bathgate is releasing a new album entitled “Salt Year” soon with a string of shows across Michigan. Find out where you can see Chris and his full live band on his official website.

Here’s a review of “Salt Year”.

Brimming with the same bottled up, lyrically driven but musically dynamic ethos as other Michigan bands Frontier Ruckus and Nathan K., Bathgate’s approach to folk music is a breath of fresh air. He concentrates on the musical side of his songs as much as the lyrical side. On the opener “Eliza (hue)”, he sings “Was it sacred? Did you scream out?” as pianos drip and coalesce into a emotional landscape filled with warbling strings and steady drums. The flourishes of electric guitar are nice to hear as well.

This record is very different than many of Bathgate’s contemporaries. Instead of just relying on the same set of instruments that tend to make up the Michigan indie folk scene (ie banjo, acoustic guitar, saw, etc), Bathgate takes it a step further. He includes those instruments, sure, but he uses them in ways that separate him from his peers. On “No Silver”, a cranking, clock-esque sound pushes along which brings to mind images of the Midwest working class towns of Michigan. “I ain’t got no silver/I ain’t got no gold” he sings.

Experimentation continues with “Levee”. As an electric guitar hum builds, the floor toms are pounded with an almost African rhythm. The drums jump from the left channel to the right and back. This gives the song a push and a feel of intensity amongst the quiet acoustic guitar and drums back in the distance. The use of electric guitar on this album makes it stand out. More often than not do bands try to go for an “authentic” feel by only using acoustic instruments. Bathgate embraces electric guitar as a weapon in his songwriting arsenal. On “Borders” the electric guitars’ textures and bits of distortion are something that I’m glad he put on the song. It gives the song a spontaneity and cleverness.

The production on this album is also something that I really love. As I mentioned before, the mixing is very distinct. Drums float in the background, like a kit is drifting at sea while it’s being recorded. The acoustic guitar and banjo are quiet yet powerful. The use of the electric guitar is my favorite part of this album. It’s very refreshing and its use is very different and nice to hear in a scene dominated by acoustic guitars. I recommend this album.