Salt Year was probably the best album you never heard in 2011. The culmination of ten years of hard work by Ann Arbor’s Chris Bathgate, the record is full of recurring lyrical phrases and musical motifs, with complex but uncrowded arrangements that suddenly bloom into bursts of guitar noise and cold brass. At times, its ageless backwoods dissonance feels like a precursor to Bon Iver’s self-titled record (which was released two months later). It’s a very whole album, absolute in conception and magnificent in execution, but frustratingly doomed to the inadequate “folk” label. It was not without its champions; NPR Music took notice, and the record received positive reviews in several major publications. But Salt Year is the kind of statement record that should set the internet on fire, find its way to festival stages, and launch a career to the next level; somehow, it didn’t.
Bathgate shut down about a year after the album’s release, burned out on touring life and reeling from a failed relationship. He canceled a lengthy solo tour and put his career on hiatus for over two years, regrouping and working with SKULLLS, a still-mysterious collaboration between seven Michigan musicians. This past October, he felt the time had come to step back out on his own again. Following a blog post on his website briefly chronicling his two-year break, he set off for shows across the upper Midwest, bringing with him a new batch of songs. Bathgate’s current tour pairs him with local favorite (and recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards laureate) Molly Sullivan. He opens this show, giving Sullivan the home-field headlining slot.