Listening to Stuart Staples, or his band Tindersticks, requires a certain, particular atmosphere—dim lighting, moderate volume levels, an autumnal chill, and perhaps an elegant, yet inexpensive bottle of red. It may not be absolutely necessary, but it will likely enhance the experience, heightening the affect that Staples’ hesitant, shivering baritone will have on the listener. In a car, in broad daylight, in warm weather, Staples’ music is still gorgeous and haunting, just oddly out of place. I’ve always found Tindersticks’ music, Curtains in particular, to be best suited for a late night, romantic-yet-melancholy atmosphere, because Tindersticks’ music is, fittingly, both romantic and melancholy, and without the right setting, the nuance is partially lost. Staples’ tales of sex, fragility, regret and loneliness are songs for the wee small hours, and his second album, Leaving Songs, only stands to bolster that claim.
The album is called Leaving Songs for a reason—characters are escaping, saying goodbye, being torn apart. So, in effect, this is an obvious continuation of the music Staples had been making with Tindersticks. From the beginning, Staples is restless and uneasy, singing “It’s not that I don’t love you, or that I’m tired of your ways, but I catch myself in the mirror, and I remember I gotta do something with my life” on “Old Friends No. 1”. Behind Staples’ voice, glimmering guitar, trumpet fanfare and whirring organ roll on, creating a melodic atmosphere quite similar to that of Tindersticks, which is only appropriate considering two of the band’s other members play on Leaving Songs.
On “There is a Path,” Staples approximates more of a Leonard Cohen style ballad, still somewhat dark and folky, but soulful at the same time, female backing vocals chiming in during the chorus of “I keep the path under my feet, because I know it’s the only one.” Other female duet partners appear later on in the record, namely Maria McKee on the gentle “This Road is Long” and Lhasa de Sela on “That Leaving Feeling,” a noir torch ballad that marks one of the album’s most chillingly beautiful moments. Lhasa de Sela shines in the spotlight, particularly during the universally sad and inspirational line, “we all have dreams of leaving/we all want to make a new start.”
As subtle and as subdued as Leaving Songs is, Staples and his musicians manage to build up momentum now and again, particularly during the shuffling “Which Way the Wind,” a lush, orchestrated and somewhat upbeat standout. Its pace only serves to make more urgent the themes of the record—sometimes it’s necessary to leave everything behind and flee, not to find someplace better, or someplace familiar, just someplace else.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Let Love In
Tindersticks – Curtains
The National – Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.