It’s probably not a good reflection on Tindersticks singer Stuart Staples’ first solo album in 12 years that, a few minutes into the pretty but inconsequential 30-minute instrumental ‘Music for A Year in Small Paintings’ I found myself trying to think of other artists named after office equipment. I got as far as Hole (Punch), (Paper) Clipse and Andy Cartridge before abandoning both the record and my search for puns and making a cup of tea, whilst pondering why Staples, a man whose voice and lyrics have touched my heart more than anyone else over the last 25 years, decided to release Arrhythmia for public consumption.
It’s not a bad album by any means, but at a mere 4 tracks long (though those 4 tracks take up over 50 minutes) it’s little more than an EP, and an EP of sketchy demos at that. Opener ‘A New Real’ is the best thing here, skittering electronic beats and a throbbing dub reggae bassline evoking criminally underrated dub-shoegazers Seefeel suddenly giving way to euphoric organ and guitar whilst Staples mournfully sings of “An empty seat next to mine…a quiet desperation”. It’s followed by the rather lovely 10-minute ‘Memories of Love’, minimalist, spectral lounge music which is slowly engulfed by tinkling bells before fading back into silence.
Unfortunately these two wonderful openers set a bar that the rest of the record fails to reach. ‘Step Into the Grey’ is very much a Tindersticks B-side which, despite its jazzy dalliances with Ascenseur pour l’echafaudage-era Miles, just makes you want to listen to Tindersticks instead; and the aforementioned ‘Music for A Year in Small Paintings’ is designed to be played as background music at an art gallery and is as pleasant, meandering and superfluous as that suggests.
The least essential record of Staples’ career then, but at the same time there’s enough invention and imagination at work here to suggest that the next Tindersticks album, currently being recorded, could be well worth waiting for. Let’s hope it’s not as ‘stationery’ as much of Arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia is out now on City Slang.