Album Review: Kindness – Something Like A War

Something Like A War

There is a tendency when a musician is feeling raw and bruised for them to write songs that are raw and bruised.

From Springsteen’s Nebraska to Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, tragedy and tears have taken us to a higher place of understanding.

Into a career which had shown rich promise, three years ago Adam Bainbridge wrote on social media: “I try to stay resilient, but every time I get back up someone knocks me back down”, a signal that the industry’s sometime tendency to dehumanise its artists was being felt. Having released 2012’s World, You Need To Change Your Mind and the much acclaimed Otherness two years later, the post came midway through a five year period under which the Kindness name has been on an unofficial hiatus.

Not idle, the time was spent producing and collaborating with the likes of Solange, Dev Hynes and Robyn. Recorded in stages and mixed by the now tragically lost Phillipe Zdar, to their credit Something Like A War doesn’t sound like a project which materialised out of distraction, but a record with its sophisticated roots in Bainbridge’s love for modern dance music.

It’s a measure of their reputation that Robyn returns the favour shown, contributing to a quartet of songs whilst Sampha, Swedish singer Seinabo Sey and Jazmine Sullivan also all feature prominently. The latter adds a rawness to the otherwise flawlessly executed Hard To Believe, while Sey’s gospel threads do a similarly uplifting job with the jazzy overtones of Lost Without.

Naturally however, much of the external focus on Something Like A War will be on Robyn’s contribution, such is the Swede’s near iconic status in the wider world of contemporary pop. Her reputation for fearlessness precedes her, but the lanes are narrower here and on Cry Everything, a duet about a failed relationship, that voice is largely held in check. It’s a similar story on the saccharine Dreams Fall, but if that’s a disappointment the error is reversed on The Warning, on which her ability to wring gutsy inches from every note is used to devastating effect, a peaking chorus of “please just tell me that it hurts” the album’s emotional high water mark.

When working on their own, the results are a little less heart-racing, whether it’s on the joyous deep house of Raise Up, Who You Give Your Heart To’s tender, mid-90’s r&b jams or the join hands soul of closer Call It Down. These are careful, but on the title-track the precision, low slung rhyming of Bahamadia offers a more urgent, energised dimension not heard enough, offering the most experimental – and best – moment here.

Something Like A War needs more songs like that, because for all its gold-plated values and sumptuous curves, the idea persists that with a little more ingenuity and some bolder devices, this could’ve been an album to cherish for the long term, rather than a conversation starter.

Maybe a little more heartbreak wouldn’t have gone amiss.

7/10

Andy Peterson

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