FAO#24: Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar, Scout Niblett & Tindersticks

Intimacy is a trait that comes in many different forms in musical realms.  Although it too often simply conjures up images of one person and an acoustic guitar, spooling themselves into lo-tech kit or sitting solitarily on a small club stage, intimacy is more about feeling and delivery than pure environmental settings.  It can find itself presented in both complexity and simplicity, via widescreen presentation as well as lo-fi production, with/without words, through rawness or lushness and within processed as much as organic recordings.  True artistic intimacy comes through making the viewer, listening or reader feel as if the creator is addressing them alone, as if no-one else on the planet is there to receive the message.  The three below albums consciously and unconsciously paint with various shades of intimacy, whilst using very different canvases.

Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar Eclipses (Thrill Jockey, LP w/download-only)

Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar - Eclipses

Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar - Eclipses

Anyone who believes that all electronica lacks the human heart to make it feel as if a real person is truly conveying themselves across wires, chips and circuit boards, has clearly never listened properly to Kraftwerk, Cluster, Brian Eno, Piano Magic, High Places, ad infinitum.  Whilst it is true that technological advancement has stopped many from communicating properly in the modern era, it has also enabled those who might not otherwise be able to express themselves fully, to find diverse and positive creative outlets.  It’s something Robert A.A. Lowe (of 90 Day Men and Lichens) appears to have an acute awareness of with this second collaboration with artist Rose Lazar, who wraps up his melodious instrumentals inside a reassuringly arcane and pretty vinyl package.  Taking obvious but not purely plagiarising cues from the Germanic experimentation of the aforementioned Cluster and Kraftwerk (especially on the mesmeric 11-minute opener “Crayon Gym”) with his use of warm analogue synths, Lowe obviously knows which retro-futuristic buttons to press for Krautrock fans.  But he goes deeper than the golden age of ‘70s sonic radicalism by looking back to classical composition (“Suno Vidis”), through In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis (“Fantomoj de la Vitro Domo”) and almost-forwards to the elegiac ‘90s-‘00s electro-explorations of Isan and Four Tet (“Tapiŝoj Lasis la Lumon En”).  Collectively, the eight tracks here pull you in, calmly envelope your senses and keep outside distractions shut away.  Whilst there are no instantly hummable motifs or obvious hooks, life inside the bubble of Eclipses is alluringly beautiful and memorable.

“Fantomoj de la Vitro Domo” by Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar


Scout NiblettThe Calcination Of Scout Niblett (Drag City, CD/LP/download)

Scout Niblett - The Calcination Of Scout Niblett

Just when it seemed like Emma ‘Scout’ Niblett might be to coming out of her shell with the relative sociability and polish of 2007’s This Fool Can Die Now (featuring guest vocals from Will Oldham and snatches of strings), she recoils here again, with only regular cohort Steve Albini for unobtrusive studio assistance.  For the obliquely-titled The Calcination Of Scout Niblett, we find Niblett going beyond one-to-one intimacy to the point where listening to her feels more like privacy-violating eavesdropping.  Lyrically it’s as fractured as post-Floyd Syd Barrett or solo Kristin Hersh and aesthetically it feels like PJ Harvey’s primordial 4-Track Demos soup has been spilled over the master tapes to Nirvana’s In Utero. With Niblett’s untreated tones sat next to solo electric six-strings throughout – with fleeting rudimentary visits to her drum-kit – the nakedness is intimidating and the tunes don’t come easy.  This listener is directly drawn to the fuzz-pedalling of the opening “Just Do It!” and the epic undulations of “Cherry Cheek Bomb,” simply due to their prior appearances as a b-side and Comes With A Smile magazine compilation track, respectively.  But it takes a lot longer to feel at ease in the company of the nine other pieces.  Slowly though, they do reveal themselves, with the plaintive twosome of “I.B.D.” and “Bargin” (sic) being next to the foreground, followed by the somewhat nonsensical nursery rhyming of “Lucy Lucifer,” the desolate “Ripe With Life” and an affecting cover of “The Duke Of Anxiety” (penned by Swearing At Motorists’ Dave Doughman).  The rest take strong intruding ears to assimilate, but there’s a feeling that rewards are there for the most loyal of devotees, if they have the courage to stick with it.  Just how long Emma Niblett can keep her retreating approach going, without losing another record deal is unclear, yet it’s hard not to admire her obstinate abstention from anything remotely connected to the mainstream.

“The Calcination Of Scout Niblett” by Scout Niblett


TindersticksFalling Down A Mountain (4AD/Constellation, CD/vinyl/download)

Tindersticks - Falling Down A Mountain

Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples does intimacy by default.  With his crumpled velvet baritone, he’s a forever crushed but undissolved romantic.  Whether crumbling (crooning-meets-mumbling) over a toy piano or a ten-piece orchestra, Staples’s heart is always poured out in generous measures.  This eighth regular Tindersticks long-player bares no exception to that rule, even if the new third incarnation of the band does sometimes push things out in slightly unexpected directions.  The glorious opening titular-track is perhaps the biggest – but most delicious – curveball of all, with masterful new drummer Earl Harvin and occasional trumpeter Terry Edwards stirring Staples’s vocals into a slinky nocturnal jazz groove mixer.  From thereon in Falling Down A Mountain skilfully switches seamlessly between new and old threads, for an album that is markedly more assured that its predecessor (2008’s tentative and fragmented Hungry Saw).  So there’s gorgeous soul-laced balladry (“Keep You Beautiful” and “Harmony Around My Table”); an archetypal Nancy ‘n’ Lee duet (with Mary Margaret O’Hara, on the knowingly self-deprecating “Peanuts”); edgy flamenco-framing (“She Rode Me Down”); two serene symphonic filmic instrumentals (“Hubbards Hills” and “Piano Music”); and a bleakly majestic two-in-one sequel to the group’s own classic “Cherry Blossoms” and timeless “Tiny Tears” (in the shape of the sublime “Factory Girls”).  Things only come unglued when the eye is taken off the meticulous finesse that binds the record as a whole; with the mangled “No Place So Alone” sounding too demo-like and the otherwise promising rawness of “Black Smoke” being let-down by over-perfumed backing vocals.  Still, two borderline duds out of ten ain’t bad for a group this long-in-the-tooth, whose passing disappointments never ultimately detract from an overall consistent run of melancholic magic.  Regularly imitated but never bettered, long may Tindersticks continue to spill emotions like downtrodden but debonair barflies.

“Black Smoke” by Tindersticks