Opening with a nine-minute spoken word piece, with a neat sting in its tail, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t going to be a desperate stab for populism and huge sales. ‘Chocolate‘ has been described as a sequel to ‘My Sister‘, one of many highlights on their second album. And it’s somewhere between the passionate intensity of that classic record and the languid soul of their fifth studio outing, ‘Can Our Love…‘, that ‘The Something Rain‘ sits. It is an intense and deeply emotive listen when taken in one sitting and the fact that the band subsequently released a live recording of all bar ‘Chocolate‘ with no additional material perhaps underlines the power of this suite of songs.
Whereas ‘Falling Down A Mountain’ lost some its charms over time, this latest effort feels truly substantial. It doesn’t give a toss what anybody else thinks and doesn’t expect to sell thousands upon thousands of copies. It’s the sound of a band who have reached a point where they’re happy in their collective skin, with a guaranteed hardcore of fans waiting excitedly for each release and who will give things time to sink in. The feeling that Tindersticks songs are always slowly evolving has been with me for years, often returning to the first three albums in particular to see what I would notice this time around. ‘This Fire Of Autumn‘ is the perfect example, having appeared on the album in a manically intense form, only to be recast as a disco stormer for a singe release. The swaggering tracks are, this time around, a fitting match for the predictably excellent sombre moments like ‘Come Inside’.
Self-produced and with a grandiose sound borne out of recent performances of their many film scores, this represents their finest work since their return in 2008 by some stretch. Although this phrase seems a little like a Tindersticks trademark, having been used about them plenty of times in the past, ‘The Something Rain‘ really is a collection of understated majesty.
Initially released quietly on vinyl only in a blank sleeve to hide the fact that Hannah Cohen is actually a model and photographer, with label Bella Union simply wanting the music to do the talking, ‘Child Bride‘ has ended up one of the better kept secrets of 2012. In fact, when I submitted my list for the magazine’s end of year chart, my reviews editor replied with ‘who the fuck is Hannah Cohen?’. Perhaps, sometimes, it is possible to market something too softly. By this point in life, I will listen keenly to anything on that particular label and so am one of the initiated. A quick listen to ‘California‘ and ‘Don’t Say‘ and you’ll be joining me in this enlightened land.
Sitting somewhere between Joni and Norah in terms of textures and delivery and having grown out of a personal interest in songs and songwriting which simply formed yet another artistic outlet for the multi-talented Cohen, this is an album which can feel a little slight at first. In the same way that the first listen to ‘Come Away With Me‘ was like walking through freshly fallen snow while someone threw rose petals at you and gave you a head massage, the opening moments of this album are luscious in the extreme. The slightly unsettling ache in ‘Shadows‘ offers a little shade to the more frequent light, with the production having an echo of Godrich’s indie ways of old.
The slightly jazzy feel to ‘Boy‘ which opens the second side offers further evidence that this record has rather more to it than might initially seem obvious. Indeed, the sonic landscape that has seen this dismissed as gentle folk by various reviewers not paying much attention, is actually subtly intricate and a good pair of headphones will see you right. Under such circumstances, you might even find ‘The Crying Game’ a little too much to take. When you’re thumbing the racks looking for alleged sale items next week, leave the predictable piles of £3 shite and take a punt on this little beauty instead.
Every year you get a couple of albums which smoulder across the months, obviously good from the first listen but not immediately revealing just how much they’re going to dominate your listening thereafter. ‘Tramp’ is one such record, arriving in February to much deserved plaudits and with a stark and simple sleeve. It simmers with the anger of a ruined relationship but the gut wrenching emotions at its core do not make for a ‘difficult’ listen. Indeed, this is a powerful crossover record, much like The National‘s ‘High Violet‘ represented a phenomenally high watermark for the band in 2010, after years of producing still excellent music. Aaron Dessner of that band had his oen part to play in this wonderful album, taking on production duties having previously covered a track fom Van Etten‘s previous release ‘Epic‘
Soaring guitars have their place and are sparingly but beautifully deployed throughout a collection of songs united by purpose and content rather than one specific sound. The demure acoustic strum of ‘Ask‘ sits alongside the far spikier ‘Serpents‘, while the mandolin tinged majesty of ‘Leonard‘ is a joy to behold on every listen. It also makes for a rather splendid end to a Best of 2012 compilation, should you be searching for that elusive conclusion. There’s a hint of old PJ Harvey here at times and the staggering vocal lure of prime Cat Power, to attempt to offer a little context. The delicate arrangements cannot entirely mask the stinging lyrical content.
But, whatever ‘Tramp’ might start out as to your ears, it doesn’t take long to assume its own important place in your record collection. The beautiful ‘We Are Fine’ provides details of how Van Etten subdues a panic attack: “trying hard to breathe, head between my knees, take my hand and squeeze, say I’m alright,” blossoming into a folksy duet with Zach Condon of the band Beirut. Although much has been made about the visceral subject matter, not least by the artist herself: “I hate putting negative energy out into the world. But it’s either inside or out. I mean, it’s either get an ulcer or have a fight,” out of emotional pain has come some quite brilliant music.