Tindersticks The Hungry Saw

[Constellation; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: slinky chamber-rock
Others: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Scott Walker before he became terrifying

And Constellation’s diversification continues! The label’s been branching out from its former Montreal-centric roster over the past couple years, recruiting the likes of Carla Bozulich, Eric Chenaux, The Dead Science, and (perhaps most importantly) Vic Chesnutt. It’s a great move and probably a necessary one, as we watch the label’s former load-bearers (devoted as I was to them in the past) increasingly find relevancy and, unfortunately, quality to be out of their grasp. There was a period a few years ago when the best thing Constellation had going for them was the quasi-in-house studio Hotel2Tango, which has consistently produced fantastic-sounding albums since its early days. Constellation’s new crop not only gets to utilize that wonderful studio, but brings back adventurous and intelligent songwriting. Still, it was quite a surprise when I heard that Constellation would be putting out Tindersticks' The Hungry Saw in North America.

Tindersticks are one of those bands whose sound has been well-defined for years. The experiments they do are pretty small-scale; they’ve hit on their formula and see no reason to throw it away. And there isn’t any reason for them to: Stuart Staples belongs in that contemporary class of songwriters that’s home to Cave, Kozelek, and Oldham, and he’s got a more distinct voice than any of them. Obviously, that voice is the biggest signifier of the band’s sound, but the other elements are all here -- the low-down grooves, the slow tempos, the strings, the piano, the organ, the horns adding texture. There are the usual quietly evocative lyrics, too, especially on the title track in its characterization of Love as literally a dude with a saw going straight for your guts: "The first cut is the skin/ The second is the muscle/ Then there’s a crack of the bone and he’s at your heart."

The Hungry Saw is a quiet, subtle record, which is among the chief reasons that its release on Constellation is so surprising: Constellation’s stable has been a lot of things, but subtle was never really one of them. But, ultimately, it’s another Tindersticks record, and they’re still good after all these years. It’s not an incredibly remarkable record, but when a band is this consistent for this long, it’s hard to fault it. The Hungry Saw won’t change your life, but it’ll make a few afternoons better.

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