Adam Bainbridge is the sort of producer who works his negative space as hard as he works a disco bass line or a slice of funk guitar. His cover of The Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party” on Kindness’ debut, World, You Need a Change of Mind, lifted the raw rock gem into an electric haze on the back of an insistent, collapsing beat. As a chilled-out dance track, the song’s pun only got punnier; you could imagine it as “party music” for a gathering of people busy staring down their mortality and helplessness instead of chasing down the next high.
On his cleanly titled sophomore record, Otherness, Bainbridge clears the smoke that clouded over his debut. His fixations remain largely intact—love, its failures and complications, and how to keep trying to be a better person despite your flaws—but he tackles them on a grander scale. Instead of throwing pebbles against a window with a collection of drum machines, Bainbridge loops in acoustic drums and other big, real instruments. Otherness also boasts an impressive roster of guest stars; everyone from Dev Hynes of Blood Orange to Robyn shows up to lay down vocal tracks. Change of Mind might have felt like the product of one guy working through a personal collection of impulses. Otherness feels more like a group project, a jam.
Kindness’ second album hones his fondness for the blank spots between the beats. Even when he gets an award-winning dance pop star to guest on his songs, Bainbridge keeps his production lean and minimal; “Who Do You Love?”, featuring guest vocals by Robyn, groups its drums, bass and strings into nervous clusters, then brushes all the noise aside to let an organ swell. It’s far from what a Robyn song usually sounds like, but the flipped expectations lend the track a sense of excitement and surprise. You keep waiting for a bombastic hook and you never get one, but what unfolds instead suits Robyn’s voice just as well.
Otherness takes a few odd turns, like the classical guitar ballad “For the Young” or the extended midtempo piano groove “I’ll Be Back.” When Bainbridge doesn’t have guests to play off of, he can get a little stuck in his own head. But then you get songs like “Why Don’t You Love Me,” featuring Dev Hynes and Tawiah, and those sparse, strange Kindness beats just click against the duet. All Bainbridge has to do here is set up a rattle of drums and the occasional bleat synth, and the song seems to take off on its own.
These surprising, organic encounters make the record more than just another set of alt-producer experiments. Bainbridge reaches past the boundaries he set on Change of Mind, making Otherness a rich, varied examination of love and loneliness. But sometimes that sparseness he likes means there’s just too little to grip.