Drawing from a finely curated record collection, the British-born musician Adam Bainbridge makes danceable and referential pop as Kindness. With this project, which he started during an academic stint in Philadelphia in 2007, he’s approached pop music with unbridled enthusiasm, striking a balance between paying abundant homage to his wide array of influences and crafting his own coherent aesthetic.
His debut album, 2012’s World, You Need a Change of Mind, though charming and eclectic, found that balance slightly skewed toward the first part of the equation. The album was occasionally too caught up in its own references, making Bainbridge seem more like a jukebox of disparate influences than a distinct artist. Not only was its title a reference to Eddie Kendricks’ sprawling soul classic “Girl You Need a Change of Mind”, it also included left-field covers of artists ranging from The Replacements (“Swinging Party”) to UK actress Anita Dobson (“Anyone Can Fall in Love”). Those renditions were highlights, but more on the strength of the originals’ striking melodies than Bainbridge’s danceable reworkings. While much of the record’s other experimentation worked, specifically the whimsically simple single “House” and the Trouble Funk-sampling “That’s Alright”, World was often scatterbrained, despite its sleek and impeccable production courtesy of Bainbridge and Grammy winner Philippe Zdar.
Otherness, Bainbridge’s second album, rights the ship. The adventurous pop auteur is tightening up his sound to finally make a cohesive statement. Paradoxically, Bainbridge is able to hone his voice with a star-studded cast of collaborators a lot better than he did on World, which featured little in the way of guest spots. Joining him on the album are his longtime friend and collaborator Devonté Hynes (aka Blood Orange), Robyn, Kelela, Ghanian rapper M.anifest, and rising UK soul singer Tawiah, to name a few. Produced by Bainbridge, the album also features mixing from Blue May and Jimmy “The Senator” Douglass, who has previously produced artists like The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake. The bass lines pop, the horns are funky and enveloping, and the jam-minded collaboration, while freewheeling, is also nicely contained through the album’s unequivocal clarity and studio professionalism. Songs like “This Is Not About Us”, with its velvety horns and intricate metallic rhythms, are breathtaking in their execution. Others, like the Robyn collaboration “Who Do You Love?” and the Kelela-aided opener “World Restart”, are totally lovable in their nu-disco splendor.
While Otherness improves on Bainbridge’s songwriting, there are still moments of crate-digging referentiality. But here, the homages are much more organic. Perhaps the best example is the understated “8th Wonder”, which features M.anifest rapping about Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” over stunning horns and a quietly melancholic atmosphere. Another notable and sublime moment comes during the Kelela-assisted “With You”. Toward the middle of the song, a subtle sample of Art of Noise’s classic single “Moments in Love” drops into the mix, providing a fitting backdrop to a circling sax solo.
On “For the Young”, Bainbridge tries his hand at reworking “Moon-Light”, a 1985 collaboration between Herbie Hancock and Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso. The result is pretty, if somewhat meandering, updating the original’s spirit with its liberal sampling.
A low point comes in the excessive use of vocoder that doesn’t really land during “Geneva”. Bainbridge’s collaboration with Hynes and Tawiah, “Why Don’t You Love Me”, unfortunately underwhelms. There’s some pitchiness in the trio’s harmonies, and the major melody isn’t strong enough to justify its four-minute runtime.
In many ways, Bainbridge and Hynes have been following a similar career trajectory. Both come from the UK and spent the formative parts of their musical career in the US, and both are primarily concerned with the ways pop can be updated while staying deferential to the past. The two of them also just released near-excellent albums that were highly collaborative, Otherness and Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe. While they’re both fairly melancholic, dealing with themes of love and heartbreak, Bainbridge clearly understands rhythm and dancing, making his music more fun and vibrant.
In an interview, Bainbridge admitted that a carnivorous consumption of pop music is the driving force behind his musical output, saying, “I’m just a kid from Peterborough [UK] that loves music. It’s the dominating thing, above making it — just being a fan.” This infectious passion for music is tangible throughout Otherness. There’s a vibrancy and a vitality to this music that acts as a mirror to its collaborative nature. A marked improvement on a charming but varied debut, the album works to place Bainbridge near the top of pop-minded disco revivalists. Like Hynes and so many others who are trying to reimagine classic pop structures and genres, Bainbridge is going to have to figure out a way to stay relevant and vital in a playing field that’s just about overcrowded. But, thanks to Otherness, that spot is his to lose.
Essential Tracks: “8th Wonder”, “This Is Not About Us”, and “Who Do You Love?”