Honesty and vulnerability come forth easily.
Never miss an opening act. Though most people attend concerts for the excitement of the headliners, openers face a bigger challenge: enticing an audience who’s there to see somebody else. DJ-producer Carl Craig, in an interview this year, explained that opening for Disclosure gave him the freedom to play virtually anything he wants. As fundamental as openers may be, it’s not always easy to be one, nor as a fan, to catch one. Kindness, nee Adam Bainbridge, had the distinct honor of opening for Robyn’s return tour in 2019. Though both collaborated in the past and Bainbridge produced pieces on Honey, the billing seems odd considering their modest, downtempo creations. Opening for Robyn meant their music was likely drowned out by electropop or overlooked and ignored in order to ready oneself for the night’s main spectacle. It’s the band’s very reticence that draws one to their music, and to their third album Something Like a War.
Honesty and vulnerability, often tied to melodrama in music, come forth easily. “Holding back all those times we talked” is a simple truth delivered with a similar plainness, yet it packs the punch only a reality check can give. Taking cues from Arthur Russell with tints of new jack swing and electronic funk, the album settles into a soothing blend of disco and house. Its softness pairs well with Bainbridge’s low, unpretentious voice, also a welcome partner for the assortment of collaborators assembled. The Fembot herself appears on three tracks, one a throwback to her earliest records, while two others are more akin to the understated Honey. “The Warning” recalls the R&B on which she made her name whereas “Cry Everything” goes for low-key and loses its gravitas. The throwback sound wins out here, but “Softness As a Weapon” makes a strong point with “a gentle word stuns”.
Along with Robyn’s memorable return to the ‘90s, other welcome features include Seinabo Sey (“Lost Without”), Cosima (“Call It Down,” “No New Lies”) and Jazmine Sullivan assisted by an inconspicuous Sampha (“Hard To Believe”). “Hard To Believe,” aggressive in tempo and the most forward vocally, sticks out on Something Like a War and suggests the adventurous turns it could but doesn’t always take.
Further tying into its unobtrusive nature, Something Like a War introduces and erases sonic elements unremarkably, and at times, clumsily. The new jack swing qualities of “Dreams Fall” falls out a third of the way through, which wisps back into swift but nebulous dance music. On the title track, the tempo shifts for a brief set of bars, but here the shift feels appropriate as it emphasizes Bahamadia’s effortless delivery.
Ultimately, a few more surprises like that would elevate Something Like a War, or at least provide a bit of distinction to its very similar tracks. One fun, brief surprise plays the same as another criticism made on a spoken word intro given no time to land. “Who You Give Your Heart To” concludes with “No, I just do things/ if you tell people, you’ll never get them done.” Another gently stunning bit of wordplay, it highlights the band’s perceptiveness towards truths not quite evident to the rest of us. Beating lessons into someone’s head rarely gets results, and Kindness understands a softer, catchier way of relaying them.