In the ten years since Tindersticks emerged from a self-imposed exile, they have released more soundtracks than studio albums. Having carved out something of a niche for deconstructed soundscapes that resemble piece by piece recipes for what make up the full band sound, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find their frontman’s latest individual effort occupying comparable terrain.
After the relatively standard fare of his first two solo albums, Arrhythmia consists of only four pieces, one of which is a thirty-minute soundtrack to a Claire Denis film incorporating paintings by Staples’ partner, Suzanne Osborne. Edited down from an array of improvisations conjured by friends and fellow artists when calling by the studio, it is a woozily enchanting sprawl that can feel curiously emphatic one moment and paper thin the next. A musical response to art which tracked the passage of a year, it evokes the passing of the seasons or the ebb and flow of a day with its contrasting movements.
While the second half of the record is made up of that elongated instrumental piece, it begins with three (not especially) conventional songs. Staples’ distinctive vocal, like an aromatic stout on a foul winter’s night, is awash with reverb and only just above the water during jarring opener “A New Real”. The bells towards its conclusion might nod back to it having been started on Christmas Day 2016, but the warped soul of its mid-section feels like a dystopian Trump-era remake of 2001’s Can Our Love…
The delicate tension instilled by the serenely lethargic delivery of “Memories Of Love” gradually dissipates after the lyrics evaporate around its midpoint. The wistful implications of “gorging on those memories” are left hanging as the hushed percussion and bubbling chimes offer reflection upon nostalgic indulgences. So utterly unmistakable is Staples’ voice that it is easy to end up surmising his music always ploughs familiar furrows, but the manipulation of textures on this ten-minute track is unlikely anything he has previously done.
Until it ventures off into a strings versus plucked bass showdown, “Step Into The Grey” feels like it could have been beamed in from the magical world of 1995’s Tindersticks II. “You’re my only defence, I need you with your teeth bared, fighting for me,” Staples implores before the somnambulant rhythm is overcome and the threat becomes real. It’s notably more provocative than his band’s work and suggests a possible route forward for an artist who has never seemed especially of the moment. Spacious but awash with invention, Arrhythmia will be easily overlooked by many, but cherished by those that take the time to live with, and in, it for a while.