After eighteen years, they still soldier on... After a somewhat revised version of Tindersticks broke their five-year recording silence with 2008's The Hungry Saw, it took less than two years for the group (again with a few modifications to the lineup) to compound that successful return with another new album -- their eighth overall -- which stands as perhaps even more of an achievement and pleasant surprise than its very fine predecessor. While Saw offered a few rare glimmers of positivity and sweetness from Stuart Staples and company, it was essentially business as usual for the perennially moody Britons. Falling Down a Mountain isn't exactly a major reinvention, either, but it does back up the golden-hued sky gracing its cover with some of their most upbeat and optimistic songs to date (keep in mind those are relative terms), and a liberal extension of the looseness they've been gradually settling into since 1999's Simple Pleasure. The six-and-a-half minute title track is immediately striking, with its simmering, asymmetrical, jazzy groove buoying a hypnotically simple vocal riff and some uninhibited soloing from trumpeter Terry Edwards. "Harmony Around My Table" is a bouncy soul-pop number that might hardly be recognizable as Tindersticks if not for Staples' inimitable quavering baritone (as always, an acquired taste, like fine wine), while the low-key lovers' duet "Peanuts" sports a charmingly simple, slightly silly lyric, and the twinkling ballad "Keep You Beautiful," though a typically mellow affair, is uncharacteristically, almost achingly sweet. Elsewhere, the album takes on a vaguely Western tinge (again echoing the dusty cover landscape), with the galloping, lustful "She Rode Me Down," Edwards' lonesome flügelhorn on the Morricone-esque instrumental "Hubbard Hills," and the gritty, downright driving "Black Smoke." Eventually -- this being Tindersticks, after all -- the darkness does creep in: the deceptively buoyant "No Place So Alone" seethes with the jealousy of a jilted lover, and by the penultimate "Factory Girls," we find Staples brooding alone, doused in melancholy, feebly asserting that "it's the wine that makes me sad, not the love I never had." It's a typically mournful, typically lovely Tindersticks moment, made all the more exquisite here in contrast to the increased stylistic range that came before it. Sometimes, it just takes a slight change in scenery to help you appreciate what you've always had.
Falling Down a Mountain Review
by K. Ross Hoffman