Some of life's pleasures are unchangeable, if less than overwhelming. Certain herbal teas, a rainy day spent indoors, Eric Rohmer's speed-of-life movies, and Tindersticks nestle together in a zone that's only apparently ascetic. For all the band's miserabilism, Tindersticks' music is crafted to convey slight surges of pleasure and contentment; the dreary weather is there to set these flashes off more.
The Hungry Saw is the latest in a lineage of albums that rarely stray into full-on joy -- the band's most "up" song remains the painful "Can We Start Again?" -- but have, increasingly since 1999's Simple Pleasure, leaned on soul music for a wet, juicy kind of resignation that constrasts subtly with the dry, scraping lonely of their first three LPs.
The Hungry Saw is the band's first since the 2006 departure of three of the band's central members -- including one that would seem crippling, that of Dickon Hinchliffe, violinist and arranger. But it follows dutifully along the path the band set in their Nottingham days with their self-titled debut. "Yesterday's Tomorrow" is the album's first proper song, and its gentle brass sounds restrained, as if too much passion could cause the song's gentle sway to turn into a full-on capsize. Followed by the sprightly, sylvan folk of "The Flicker of a Little Girl," this opening salvo -- a pillow-light salvo, at that -- finds the band energized if not straying far from familiar sights.
Elsewhere, the band seems to pick up on some threads left hanging from their first effort: The mirage guitar work, Farfisa organ, and burnished brass of "E Type" is road music as only Tindersticks could conceive. Although the album was recorded at singer Stuart Staples' Le Chien Chanceux studio in Limoges, France, the album retains the same borrowed American nostalgia and anglophilic misery. The exception is "The Organist Entertains," a drippy little organ number that qualifies as a knowing nod to both Erik Satie and Yann Tiersen.
The standout here is "The Hungry Saw," which glides along a slippery guitar line, skittering percussion and some well-placed mouth percussion. With its bone-cracking and bone-mending motif, it also returns to a grimly physical side of the band that wasn't much explored outisde of their haunting "Tyed" (the one that goes, "The sheep was cut/ Cut for the blood/ Was opened, dried and stretched out/ Hung on the wall").
You'd be hard-pressed to find a record that does what The Hungry Saw does. Ultimately, it comes down to the vagaries of taste, but measured against their previous output and current contenders, The Hungry Saw is a sleeper of a bar-chapped, morosely drunk record.
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