Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Album Review: Tindersticks – Falling Down A Mountain

Today’s exam question: Tindersticks latest album, Falling Down A Mountain - discuss. I’ll skip past the beautiful artwork to say that this album, for Tindersticks, is all over the place. In a good way. Most of their other albums are quite a unified statement in terms of sound, but this one is a bit more playful, like music for a bright, sunny day. They seem to have lightened up a bit, perhaps due to the presence of David Kitt as part of the band?

Tindersticks have a habit of throwing a curveball with track 1, and then returning with a song that sets the mood for track 2, but this album is a little different. The title track which opens the album is a very jazzy sounding groove ie a curveball. It’s a little bit seedy, in a good way. The more conventional Keep You Beautiful follows, which is a kind of slight, languid sounding track, with a little bit of soul thrown in. Not sure what sort of mood this one sets, but Harmony Around My Table picks up the pace with probably the catchiest tune on the album, with a few dodgy-sounding lyrics thrown in for good measure (“found a penny, I picked it up and all that day I had some luck”), but it’s an uplifting song nonetheless.

Peanuts will divide the fans, I think. It’s a duet between Stuart Staples and Mary Margaret O’Hara about the aforementioned snack-food, and to my ears it’s the weakest on the album. I’m not a big fan of O’Hara’s hesitant singing, and I just don’t like the tune that much. She Rode Me Down is better, with vaguely Spanish sounding guitars, along the lines of Her from their first album, with a few flutes added to the mix, and ends up sounding like a collaboration with Calexico.

Hubbard Hill is the first of two instrumentals, and it reminds me very much of their soundtrack work for French director Claire Denis. It’s organ dominated and it’s pretty damn good if you like that sort of thing (I do!) in a kind of tragic way, with heartbreaking horns coming in halfway through. The soundtrack to a doomed romance maybe? Black Smoke is a basic two chord groove, with backing vocals prominent in the mix, while No Place So Alone is one of their more mainstream moments, more uptempo. It sounds like the band is enjoying this one, so much so that after the vocals finish they continue on for a minute or two till Staples ends the song with “1, 2, 3, 4”.

Factory Girls is sparser with a simple sad piano leading into the conclusion that “it’s the wine that makes me sad, not the love I never had”. It works well in the context of the album, but I’m not sure how well this song, or some of the others stand up on their own if heard in isolation. Another great instrumental, Piano Music ends the album with strings giving a dramatic sweep to the track (along with piano as per the title). Again it sounds like a soundtrack, perhaps to an epic black and white film that hasn’t been made yet, perhaps set on the shoreline with crashing waves.

Despite some concerns on my part, Tindersticks have come up trumps again with this album. It’s not the lyrics, or the music that make this album a masterpiece in mood creation but the sum of the whole. I’ll be listening to it for months and will probably want to rewrite this then.