When Stuart Staples says of the subject of his new film “His work transcends the constraints of its time, and now it teaches us about patience, commitment, ingenuity and determination”, he could almost be talking about his own band. As they celebrate their quarter-century, Tindersticks are still absolutely bloody great at being Tindersticks, untouched by the times, an object lesson in sticking to your guns and doing what you love.
In 2017, doing what they love means directing and soundtracking a film about pioneering nature filmmaker F Percy Smith who, back in the 1910s, was one of the first filmmakers to use timelapse and microcinematography to capture a natural world – flowers blossoming, moss growing, bees gathering pollen – that had hitherto been invisible to the general public. Working at his home studio, using equipment cobbled together from food tins and cuckoo clocks, it’s no wonder Smith has proved so fascinating to Tindersticks, and Staples’ film – wordless, meditative, a succession of fascinating, dreamy images decades ahead of their time – and this soundtrack are a truly heartfelt tribute.
Since 2012’s spectacular return to form The Something Rain, the ‘Sticks have been pushing – albeit gently – at their own boundaries, and there is plenty on Minute Bodies that doesn’t sound like them at all. The Clangers-influenced ‘Magic Myxies’ for example; the percussive volleys – courtesy of eccentric French percussionist Thomas Belhom – of ‘Fireworks’; or the spooky alien soundscapes of ‘Reverse Frog’ are all radical departures from the Tindersticks we know and love, and one hopes this experimentation filters through into the next album.
But elsewhere, Minute Bodies is unmistakably a Tindersticks album. ‘Gathering Moss’, with its subtle Hammond, tinkling glockenspiel and mournful piano is like some ghostly Stax backing band. The eerie waltz of ‘The Strangler’ is just begging for Staples to smear that lugubrious voice all over it. The swarming violins of ‘Tiny Honey Gatherers’ evoke the terrifying climax to 1995’s ‘Talk to Me’. And the woozy, Waitsian ‘Scarlet Runner’ would fit very snugly on their debut album.
As John Peel once said of The Fall, “Always different, always the same”. That’s Tindersticks in a nutshell. And this time, with added educational value. Truly national treasures.
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