Tindersticks: Ypres

Ypres is an album that suspends sound in a state of perpetual motion, never finding a natural start or end point. It was designed that way—in the notes accompanying its release, Tindersticks point out how it’s intended to loop all day without ever finding a place of rest. The record is unique in the band’s canon, although it sometimes brushes close to their soundtrack work for French director Claire Denis. Ypres is a commissioned piece, from the In Flanders Fields World War One museum in Ypres, Belgium, composed to accompany visitors as they make their way through the institution. The mood is suitably somber and inward facing, with moments of beauty and light scattered throughout. It’s largely the work of two members of Tindersticks, Stuart A. Staples and Dan McKinna, with help from longterm collaborator Lucy Wilkins, who presided over the dense orchestral recordings that give the album its sizeable weight.

Tindersticks possess the enviable ability to work in big and small spaces, combining barely-there minimalist compositions with full-blown orchestral works. Ypres slots into the former category, with silence acting as a key constituent in its makeup. The muted tone creates an air of reverence, of silent contemplation. “Gueules cassées”—a title that translates as “broken faces,” in reference to injury ravaged combat veterans—contains barely any instrumentation at all, other than a solitary wind instrument faintly circling in time. It’s easy to imagine such work providing a perfectly unobtrusive accompaniment to a museum visit, but it works as a standalone piece as well, largely due to the depth and refinement sunk into it. On the fullest track here, “Sunset Glow”, the lack of complexity allows for notes to stretch out expansively, with the string section interlocking in a way that’s positively hypnotic.

Learning of the history of Ypres, which was virtually destroyed during the Great War, with rebuilding only recently finished, provides clues as to the mindset at work when these pieces were composed. But, shorn of its context, it becomes the type of material that’s easy to impinge other thoughts and feelings on. Notes seem to stretch on for days in the 20-minute-long “The Third Battle of Ypres”, opening up a framework to cloak an existential crisis in, if you feel so inclined. It’s a powerful, masterfully repetitive piece, containing great sways and sighs of purposefully deadened sound. Sometimes “Battle” even feels like it’s heading somewhere, gaining form and structure, only for Staples and his cohorts to pull back from the brink, retreating into the haltingly rotating figures that make up the rest of the album. It’s an interesting moment, resembling the more familiar front of this band taking over for a minute or two, before they check where they are and sink back into the solemnity.

A touchstone for Ypres is the soundtrack work Popol Vuh produced for Werner Herzog’s films, not least because of the way these tracks simply appear then vanish without development. But there’s also a similarity in the way the pallid atmosphere is entwined with moments of grace and beauty. On “Whispering Guns, Parts 1, 2 and 3”, a death-ship bell clangs throughout, scattered drums resemble artillery fire, and strings tenderly see-saw over the top—all combining to create an atmosphere somewhere between unease and elegance. The tools for getting there may be different, but that’s a familiar place to be for this band. One key difference, though, is in Tindersticks’ fondness for taking small moments and blowing them up big. Here, they turn that method inside out, starting with a huge, globe changing event and working something humble around it, making it feel like they’re respectfully cowering in its shadow.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1xKBHq5