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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Kindness - Something Like a War Music Album Reviews

Adam Bainbridge’s production is always tasteful and seldom bad, but is only great when heightened by its guests.

Though Adam Bainbridge, the British producer who records as Kindness, hasn’t released a record in five years, they remain quietly influential. Their credits aren’t extensive, but they are consistent, and Bainbridge’s handiwork is on some of the decade’s most gorgeous songs: Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky,” several tracks on Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe and Freetown Sound, and Robyn’s simmering nostalgia reverie “Send to Robin Immediately.” In 2012, the brushed-chrome polish of their arrangements set World, You Need a Change of Mind a little off the popular pulse; now the sound is everywhere.

Like all of Kindness’s work, Something Like a War is produced with deceptively invisible skill. Contributors and session musicians include Arthur Russell collaborator Mustafa Ahmed, a cadre of rising jazz stars, and several guest artists, many of whom appeared on Bainbridge’s monthly RBMA radio show. While the album is named for a documentary about India’s population control program, and begins with a fairly explicit statement of political themes—an Underground Resistance sample leads into the slogan, “build your people, make them equal”—more often it’s a record of personal as political, subtle as pointed, softness as weapon.

Bainbridge’s production is always tasteful and seldom bad, but is only great when heightened by its guests. On Something like a War, those guests are generally pretty good; sometimes they are very good. Bainbridge lends Gambian Swedish singer Seinabo Sey an arrangement as sumptuous as her voice, something her solo album didn’t always do. They bring Jazmine Sullivan out of hiatus for funk standout “Hard to Believe,” and she shocks the track alive. Several songs feature Robyn.

The downside is that when Bainbridge’s guests recede into the background, sometimes the songs do as well. “Who You Give Your Heart To” and “Dreams Fall” aim for intimate and wind up sleepy. “No New Lies” is a nocturnal brooder made for late-night sets and half-lit streets; it’s also a little lost amid its surroundings. The mood becomes so muted that when ’90s Philadelphia rapper Bahamadia appears on the title track, a verse full of overearnest psychspeak (“mood switched up to the gaslighting stuff … the narcissist in ’em I couldn’t tame”) nevertheless provides a jolt of tempo that makes the feature sound better than it is.

This effect, a stylish melting into the background, is maybe best seen on the Robyn tracks. Kindness is more interested in mood-setting than big moments, which means that “Cry Everything,” a song about the heavens bursting open, doesn’t work; there’s no moment of catharsis, and somehow, a Robyn song about sobbing becomes a letdown. She’s better deployed on “The Warning,” a ballad that meanders but soon finds its way to a chorus—the almost a cappella plaint “will you tell me, did you ever care?”—that plays so directly to her strengths it’s almost funny. And “Softness as a Weapon” brings out the best in both artist and producer: Robyn’s warmth matches the slow-growing, horn-flecked instrumental, production perfectly matched to theme. Like Bainbridge’s highlights of the decade, it kindles tension, rather than slackening it—building a mood, rather than assuming one.

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