The Beta Band
Circle of Dead Children
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Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman
Love Camp 7
Mondo Grosso
Mr. Velcro Fastener
Prairie Dog Flesh
Walker Kong
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can our love
Can Our Love...
Beggars Banquet

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Unless you're one of the statistical few who married his or her high school sweetheart, at least one time in your life you've probably had a failed romance. Clinging to a glass of some kind of booze, woozily pouring your heart out to friends, you end up wishing someone could know how you feel. At precisely this point, Stuart Staples and the Tindersticks are playing your song -- or rather, many of them. Can Our Love... offers another, slightly more upbeat answer to your pleas; it's up to the listener to answer the question as best as he can.

Stuart Staples' rich, honey-thick, heart-dark baritone pours out songs of such deep woe and loss that they're all the listener can bear to hear. Fortunately, Staples' lyrics are easier to understand; he mumbles far less than he did on Curtains. However, lyrics are not the band's focus -- as usual, they are not printed on the inside cover. If you catch any snatches of the words, all you are supposed to receive from them -- presumably -- is the sound that they make, rather than their meaning.

Gently brushed drums, syncopated block, mournful Hammond organ, moaning violins and thrumming guitar strings combine to create an air of gentle melancholy -- or, surprisingly, settled content -- throughout the album. "Sweet Release" is much more upbeat than anything you'll find on Curtains; "Give me that sweet dream / give me that sweet release", Staples croons lightly, and it is a sweet release to hear the band say something so hopeful. You get the impression that in this song, the narrator might actually achieve his dream -- or at least that he stands a chance. The song-closing crescendo of violins, organ, hand claps and voice is a nice touch, too; although the band says that no one quite knows what to expect from their music, you might have imagined this ending.

Although the first three Tindersticks albums moved more and more toward heavy orchestration, the most recent have favored a pared-down sound, which proves that simpler things are sometimes best. "No Man in the World" is so plain that it is startling; the other instruments are so quiet, and their notes so simple and few, that the listener focuses solely on the weariness in Staples' voice. Still at the top of their heartbreak game, even while adding lighter shades of blue to their soulful palette, the band has discovered new ways to convey deep emotion with a greater subtlety. Can Our Love... is a minimalistic jewel, a soul wonder and an anomaly in a pop world.

-- Jenn Sikes
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