"The Something Rain", Tindersticks' ninth album, stubbornly holds fast to the group's branded, nocturnal avant-pop, one that holds within it everything from subtly textured electronics and touches of jazz to cabaret, chanson, and melancholy indie pop.
Vocalist Stuart Staples' signature dulcet baritone is as haunting as ever: it shivers almost constantly atop a mix that contains everything from carefully layered keyboards, bowed bass and cellos to spidery guitars, vibes, minimal drum kits, reeds, and loops.
That Tindersticks' sonic universe is so carefully attended and guarded doesn't mean there isn't growth or daring -- this is the most urgent recording they've made in over a decade -- it's just that it's (mostly) very subtle.
For instance, the album opens with the nine-minute "Chocolate". The music is a soundtrack accompanying a spoken word vocal by David Boulter. He relates a narrative with a startling punch line. Saxophones, acoustic guitars, glockenspiel, bass, piano, and organ all shimmer and slip beneath his calm narration. It's a rather brave way to open a recording.
"This Fire of Autumn" is an uncharacteristically uptempo number, driven by bass and guitars with an organ and other keys shifting through the backdrop and highlighted by a snare. The shock comes on the refrain, where Staples' protagonist is propelled ever forward into a dangerous possibility of love. As if to accentuate this, he is joined on the refrain by a female backing chorus in full lounge-R&B croon à la Leonard Cohen.
"A Night So Still", with its cheap drum machine loops, reverbed guitars, and keyboards is nonetheless a seductive and powerful tune.
So purposefully restrained is its seductive narrative, it creates a nearly unbearable tension that doesn't release.
"Medicine", the single, is a languid, velvety ballad. It's a fine contrast to the proceeding cut; "Frozen" could be remix by a '90s drum'n'bass producer, and its gently dissonant saxophones and smoky, down-in-the-mix vocal by Staples would make it a great 12".
"Come Inside", with its gently undulating Rhodes piano, evokes the tender atmospherics of jazz pianist Hampton Hawes' Universe album. The set closes in soundtrack mode again with "Goodbye Joe", an instrumental that directly evokes Ennio Morricone's spaghetti westerns.
The Something Rain's grace, elegance, and beauty are enhanced throughout by its subtle but certain spirit of chance. T Jurek