kindness – otherness

there’s something unquestionably earnest about adam bainbridge’s music.  on otherness, his second album as kindness, nearly every trope from 1980s pop music is present and accounted for, yet its cliché is subverted and conveyed in such a way that eliminates any sense of kitsch.  powered by the monstrous lead single and album-opener “world restart,” otherness sets the stage for numerous irresistible collaborations a convincing exploration of decidedly retro timbres.

although kindness is bainbridge’s pet project, the british singer-songwriter benefits greatly from the talents of other artists enlisted to help with the creation of otherness.  up-and-coming r&b singer kelela is bainbridge’s go-to collaborator, prominently featuring on “world restart” as well as “with you,” a track buried mid-way through the album that hinges on a murky bass line befitting of david lynch’s beloved “twin peaks.”  ghanaian rapper m.anifest also drops by for a verse on “8th wonder” and manages to almost immediately reference tracy chapman’s “fast car,” further placing otherness and its principle influences squarely inside the 1980s.  other heavy hitters like robyn and blood orange’s dev hynes turn up as well, each putting their signature seal on their respective collaborations.

while otherness is primarily a record engrossed in dance music (see especially: “why don’t you love me?”), bainbridge does manage to deviate from those timbres rather successfully.  after a loud set of opening remarks, bainbridge notably chooses to tone down the record with “this is not about us,” a comparatively quiet, piano-driven ballad.  he similarly cools off deeper in the track list with “geneva,” using swells of layered vocals to create a choral effect akin to the aesthetic that james blake’s self-titled days were predicated on.  the effective and continuous use of saxophone also scores bainbridge a few points for creative risk-taking; the smooth jazz tones in “8th wonder” and “it’ll be ok” play foil to the bombastic overblowing on “world restart,” saving the instrument from becoming redundant.

with songwriting this rich and nuanced, it sometimes becomes hard to believe that otherness is only the second kindness album.  just like adam granduciel did so efficiently for the war on drugs with lost in the dream, bainbridge breathes fresh life into sounds that defined his early childhood and upbringing.  the results are riveting.

8.1/10

cloud nothings – here and nowhere else

when i first heard cloud nothings’ tremendous third album, attack on memory, dylan baldi’s screeches of “i thought i would be more than this” resonated incredibly with my nineteen year-old state of mind.  the album soon became the soundtrack to my 2012, its raw dissonance juxtaposed with hook-laden gems like “stay useless” and “our plans.”  still, the overall darkness in mood of attack on memory, coupled with the increased abrasiveness of instrumentation, all but erased the breezy bedroom pop aesthetic baldi had cultivated on cloud nothings’ first two records, leaving the trajectory of their subsequent output open-ended.  on here and nowhere else, baldi arrives somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, resulting in the band’s most polished sound to date.

baldi’s detractors frequently cited his sub-par vocal delivery as the band’s main pitfall throughout attack on memory, and while opinions on the effect of his raw voice are entirely subjective, it’s worth noting that his voice is unquestionably at its best on here and nowhere else.  he’s in tune and more articulate, and songs like “just see fear” have moments of sheer melodic beauty.  at the same time, baldi is even more punishing and menacing than he was on cloud nothings’ last album; guttural screams emit towards the end of “just see fear,” and the repetition of the word “swallow” on “giving into seeing” sounds tortured yet purposeful.  overall, baldi the singer is very much in the foreground of the songs on here and nowhere else, putting emphasis on the last refined element of the band’s sound.

cloud nothings slimmed down to a power trio before heading into the recording studio, but the absence of a second guitarist seems to cause no problems.  jayson gerycz is an unstoppable force of nature behind a drum kit; in the early days of the band, his presence was almost comical at times, but his relentless technique mirrors and personifies the cacophony cloud nothings has perfected.  here and nowhere else doesn’t stop for a breather throughout much of its duration, with gerycz flirting with the front of each beat and bassist t.j. dukes dutifully following his example.  the songs largely return to a more structured pop formula that aided baldi’s ascension from anonymity; “patterned walks” is the only clear outlier, drawing on the expanded structure of “wasted days,” but songs like “now here in” and “psychic trauma” are upbeat and irresistible, with only hints of the post-apocalyptic dissonance that permeated attack on memory.

baldi’s prowess as a songwriter and guitarist has only grown over time; he handles all of the six-string chores on here and nowhere else, creating a thick, distorted tone befitting of the old punk bands he frequently name-checks in various interviews.  the final song on the album, “i’m not part of me,” might just be the band’s best to date, and it’s telling that they saved it for last.  from the outset of the first chord in his progression, baldi reminds everyone of his talent, fitting a subtle melodic line into the harmony.  his voice is comparatively calm for the most part, and his proclamation of “i’m not telling you/all i’m going through” seems to echo the ethos of the entire album: the dark undertones are still there, but they’re more reserved and less prone to explicit despair and self-deprecation.  here and nowhere else doesn’t quite match attack on memory in terms of raw emotion – few records ever will – but its songs continue to sculpt baldi into a fiercely formidable presence still very much capable of writing acutely polarizing and meaningful lyrics.

9.0/10