The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Tindersticks

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Words: Mark Carry, illustrations: Craig Carry

Tindersticks released their ninth studio album, ‘The Something Rain’ earlier this year and is a significant milestone for the band. There is both a completeness and triumph to the sound of the album, which shows the band in totally inspired form. Of the original lineup, the triangle of Stuart A. Staples (vocals), David Boulter (piano and organ) and Neil Fraser (guitars) continue to ‘suffer for their art’ while constantly keeping that spark alive. Furthermore, since their reformed lineup from 2008’s ‘The Hungry Saw’ onwards, Tindersticks are a tight five piece band, with Dan Mckinna (bass) and Earl Harvin (drums) completing the core group. ‘The Something Rain’ shows the band as a rejuvenated force and is clearly among the band’s finest works. The Tinderstick’s songbook is one of greatness, from the masterworks of the first two (self-titled) albums and ‘Curtains’ from the early to mid-nineties and later, Can Our Love’, ‘Simple Pleasures’ and ‘Waiting For The Moon’ have adorned music audiences. Over the past twenty years, the Nottingham band have made the most real, touching, evocative and engaging music of its kind. The band’s sound crosses all musical paths from chamber pop, lounge, soul, rock and cinematic scores. The band’s hallmarks of Staples’ baritone and the orchestrated string arrangements creates a special force like no other. It is fitting to now look back at their wonderful career and also to celebrate the release of their latest opus, ‘The Something Rain’.

‘The Something Rain’ shows, as Staples says, ‘a new creative edginess around and a determination’. The recording process was a time of experimentation, of searching and honing down a shape. Of the twenty or so ideas the band set out with, nine songs became the final album. The opener ‘Chocolate’ is a gem in storytelling and arrangement. The song starts off with a lightly strummed acoustic guitar where David Boulter tells an evocative and oddly affecting tale of a barroom hookup. It’s in fact Boulter’s formative years of his life in Nottingham condensed in nine and a half minutes. This prose poem set to music can be seen as a sequel to Tindersticks’ classic ‘My Sister’ from ’93, which Boulter also wrote. The album closer is a short instrumental ‘Goodbye Joe’ which is a cinematic delight that perfectly closes a triumphant and jubilant album. Intricate sounds of percussion, bells and heavenly arrangements of brass and woodwind bring the album to a stunning close. The instrumental reflects their hugely successful score work the band have written and composed over the years for the films of Claire Denis. The scores to ’35 Rhums’, ‘White Material’, ‘Trouble Everyday’ and ‘Nenette Et Boni’ beautifully captures the feelings and mood of each and every world created by Denis on film, showcasing the full spectrum of human emotion.

The first moment Staple’s baritone voice enters ‘The Something Rain’ is after the soul gospel intro of ‘Show Me Everything.’ Gorgeous strings, female backing vocals, thick bassline and resonating guitar creates a gloriously soulful soundscape; the perfect build-up to Staple’s entry. His first words are: ‘Complexities/Treachery/We watch through glass/We see nothing’ which builds into a crescendo of utterly compelling soul-jazz. My personal highlight ‘This Fire Of Autumn’ is wrapped in layers of wonder. Breathtaking soul backing vocals, wah-funk guitars of Fraser, Harvin’s cooler-than-cool drumming, the lounge-feel of Boulter and McKinna creates a wall of elegant sound. ‘All the words we never say/Couldn’t make any difference’ is a lyric that finds Staples at his melancholic best. The tempo slows on the following ‘A Night So Still’ with many layers of subtle detail beneath Staple’s aching voice. The stillness of night is perfectly distilled. ‘Slippin’ Shoes’ is yet another peak with an utterly compelling arrangement of brass and organs over Staple’s ever irresistible baritone. ‘We can put on our shoes/We can celebrate while our hearts break and go/laughing through that news again’ Staples sings on the song’s chorus. The heart of the album, as the band have said, lies the memory of the people they have lost in the last two years and ‘Slippin’ Shoes’ is that very heart and celebration of life, both past and present. The first single ‘Medicine’ starts off with a drum beat and strumming acoustic guitar before a haunting cello drifts in. The swirling mood and feeling is beautifully captured and could be taken directly from Leonard Cohen’s songbook; ‘That medicine it works inside of you/in your head/in your own dreams/in your dreams again.’
‘Frozen’ shows the band’s experimental side in full focus. The mesmerizing repeated vocal of Staples ‘If I could just hold you, hold you’ is like a mantra from above the clouds. Hypnotic bass and guitar effects over Edwards’ fleeting saxophone creates an eerie sound that is utterly compelling. ‘Come Inside’ is a beautiful ballad of searching and longing, which shares similarities to ‘My Oblivion’, an older gem of theirs from ‘Waiting For The Moon’.

David Boulter’s ‘Chocolate’ depicts the story of a young couple’s chance encounter on a night out. The pair get to know each other over drinks (pernods) and talk of interests and various likes and dislikes. Topics of conversation include: John Barry; Ford Cortinas; Brylcream; their favourite Bond film (both agree on ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ ‘if you accept it as a whole and not just get hung up about George Lazenby.’) As the night progresses, we sense how everything has become suddenly illuminated for our central character. For now he has escaped the ordinary (if not monotonous) daily routine as a house decorator and a lonely bedsit dweller. The night is ‘full of possibilities.’
‘Chocolate’ beautifully encapsulates the uniqueness (and bravery) of this special band. While 1993’s ‘My Sister’ (and their eponymous debut) provided those first charges of electricity and mesmerized us with its sheer scope and vastness, Tindersticks of 2012 has no less power to dazzle and inspire. Our relationship with the band have seen us through a whirlwind of emotions and events (from love at first listen in those early nineties to a split in 2005). It is a relationship we have not only grown up with, it is one we will cherish for a lifetime. A lifetime full of possibilities.

‘The Something Rain’ is out now on City Slang/Lucky Dog Recordings.

Written by admin

July 28, 2012 at 10:34 pm

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