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Kindness – Otherness


The solo project of British musician Adam Bainbridge, Kindness emerged in 2012 with World, You Need a Change of Mind, an album that synthesised diffuse influences into a svelte whole, co-produced by Philippe Zdar. On its follow-up, Otherness, Bainbridge moves away from glossy surfaces in pursuit of a more tactile sound, with a new emphasis placed on collaboration and live musicianship.

Bainbridge describes Otherness as “another choice”, a self-styled alternative to what he calls “direct contemporary-sounding pop music”. That’s an intriguing endeavour, of course, but it’s also one that defines the music primarily by what it is not, rather than what it is. The result is that Otherness becomes a record largely governed by absences. The lack of guitar is as much a defining feature of the music as the use of piano, horns and bass; the song ‘For the Young’ turns on a vocal sample that cuts abruptly out. Lyrically, the standard pop themes of love and loss are the order of the day, but the sentiments feel rinsed out, non-specific (‘It’ll be OK’, ‘Who Do You Love?’, ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’). The effect can be pleasingly meditative, although it comes unstuck on ‘Geneva’, which reiterates two colourless lines for close to six minutes, without alighting on much, conceptually or melodically, to make them stick.

Bainbridge himself remains an equivocal presence. The mixing, by and large, is dryer than on his debut, but his vocals remain heavily shrouded in reverb and multi-tracking. Bainbridge has been rather wishfully compared to Arthur Russell, and while his voice, like Russell’s, can be an acquired taste, it lacks the openness that makes Russell’s music so transporting. Throughout Otherness, Bainbridge’s vocals feel theoretically emotive – particularly on a handful of studied ‘ad libs’ – but always at a remove. This reserve can have a haunting quality of its own, particularly as the instrumentation is often placed to the foreground, with the voice a gauzy presence on the periphery.

Otherness also finds room for a plethora of guest vocalists, including Robyn, who dials back her barn-burning pop vocals for something more detached on ‘Who Do You Love?’. Coming on calm but precise over a sparse backdrop dominated by delightfully chaotic drum patterns, her charisma cuts through without overpowering the surroundings. Aloofness suits her. Kelela, known for her association with the Night Slugs label, lends her voice to a handful of tracks and makes for an alluring presence, particularly on ‘With You’, although Otherness’s melancholia lacks the palpable erotic charge of occasional collaborator Blood Orange. Ghanaian rapper M.anifest is not as well served, with his cameo on ‘8th Wonder’ feeling disconnected from the song. Instrumentally, however, ‘8th Wonder’ is a highlight, blessed with gorgeously muted horns.

Overall, mood is prioritised over melody, and spacious ambiance over grand statements. As such, Otherness requires investment, or it can drift off into the ether. Listeners willing to make that investment may find themselves drawn into Bainbridge’s carefully cultivated sound world. For those in the right frame of mind, absence can be as compelling as presence. David Turpin

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is a musician, screenwriter and occasional academic. His web-site is