Adam Bainbridge is a member of a group of voracious, industrious artists—among them Devonté Hynes, Solange, Sky Ferreira, and Kelela—who consider themselves “pop.” It’s a group that values collaboration, guesting on one another’s albums and who, increasingly, are dipping their toes into popular music as producers and writers. “You’ll never guess who I just worked with,” is, these days, a popular volley between Bainbridge and his former flat-mate Hynes, both now in-demand collaborators for more traditionally popular artists. They value the word “pop,” presumably, not because they want to be judged against current popular music but because defining yourself as a pop artist means never having to say you’re sorry: you can work in whatever idiom you want, with whoever you want, in whatever manner. There’s a freedom to pop music not availed to anyone who defines themselves as an indie rocker, or a punk, or a soul singer.
One of the chief curiosities of Otherness, Bainbridge’s second album as Kindness, is trying to understand what this freedom means in the context of his careful, quiet compositions. Bainbridge’s music sounds nothing like the current maximalist strain of popular music, and it sounds only a little like certains kinds of popular music from decades past. It’s more deliberate and varied than Bainbridge’s debut album, World, You Need a Change of Mind, a pleasant indie-disco record lacking in ambition.
Bainbridge aims higher on Otherness, setting his sights on pristine studio gems. He expands his arrangements, enlists collaborators (Hynes and Kelela chief among them), and dispenses with the cover songs that buoyed World. Bainbridge constructs his tracks largely with piano, horns, and bass, free of guitar. His lyrical currency is that most pop of topics: love lost and found. On Otherness, Bainbridge is a descendent of artists like Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Bryan Ferry: self-serious rogues who whipped the undomesticated wilds of jazz, disco, and R&B into digestible platters. Such is the M.O. of Otherness: throw everything at the wall, very tastefully.
Bainbridge is a standout producer, and Otherness crackles with crisp filigrees and luxe baubles. The soft-pedaled funk of tracks like “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “With You” show lovely restraint, while welterweight breaks and brisk hi-hats keep “World Restart” and “This Is Not About Us” from blanching. “I’ll Be Back” is a lavish, slo-mo house lullaby. There is a rare clarity and fidelity to Otherness‘ arrangements.
But, beautiful as they are, no one inhabits them. The only source of tension on Otherness is the disconnect between the album’s sumptuous vistas and the dull songwriting that roams them. Otherness burdens its precision with unimaginative melodies and plodding tempos (“For the Young”, “It’ll Be Ok”). Bainbridge moans wanly during “8th Wonder” (“I’m thinking about my baby now/ Yeah”) before interrupting the track with a jarring guest verse (during which M.anifest shouts out Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, lest you have any doubts about Otherness‘ smothering sincerity).
Bainbridge, doleful and even keeled on World, opens up his voice here but proves too thin and affectless for the kind of soulful interjections he wishes upon “This Is Not About Us” and “I’ll Be Back”. When Robyn takes lead on the jaunty “Who Do You Love?” the effect is like removing your earplugs at a concert, exposing yourself to an almost violent level of detail.
Most irksome is “Geneva”, a musty, choral ballad that consists largely of one line—”If you could read my mind/ You know what you’d find”—repeated mantra-like through the song, something that initially scans as quiet reflection but quickly reveals itself to be gibberish (seriously: if you could read his mind—but you can’t—you wouldn’t even need to read his mind). “Geneva”, one trifle repeated ad nauseam, is nearly six minutes long. Otherness is full of moments like this, drawn-out tiltings at romantic windmills that too often resolve themselves in near parody. When Hynes and Tawiah trade deep questions on “Why Don’t You Love Me”, they sound less like star-crossed lovers and more like two very confused people quixotically locked in song. “With You” features two sultry saxophone solos that mostly smack of The Simpsons and Bill Clinton.
Pop music has plenty of tolerance for vapidity and emptiness, but you’ve got to be able to sell it. Look no further than Hynes’ “It Is What It Is” if you want an example of a banality contorted into substance. You wonder if Bainbridge recognizes that something’s missing: “Making pop music that’s less immediate than other engineered pop, sometimes you need a helping hand that explains where it’s coming from or the emotional universe it lives in.” Maybe Otherness‘ emotional universe requires context, but who other than Bainbridge would provide it? Otherness isn’t just less immediate than other pop music; it’s less self-aware, and way less fun.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1vxUJ4k