Something Like a War
If some of literature’s greatest works—The Sun Also Rises, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—can start with an epigraph, why can’t an album? “It sort of sets the scene in a way,” Kindness tells Apple Music of their choice to introduce their third LP with an a cappella from Detroit techno group Galaxy 2 Galaxy’s “Transition." "It shows that the author's read someone other than themselves.” Kindness is definitely one of those authors. The singer-songwriter-producer born Adam Bainbridge makes plush downtempo pop tunes that not only wear their diverse influences on their sleeve (avant-garde disco, classic house music, ’90s hip-hop, Balearic beat) but emblazon them across their chest in huge block letters (boldly sampling '80s R&B singers Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, DC go-go royalty Trouble Funk, and UK synth-pop experimenters Art of Noise). So the salvo that opens “Sibambaneni” is particularly fitting: “There will be people who will say, ‘You don’t mix this with that.’ And you will say, 'Watch me.’” From there, Something Like a War’s all-inclusive utopia takes shape, as Kindness and their score of collaborators (including the late Cassius producer Philippe Zdar, who helped make Kindness’ debut album and to whom this one is dedicated) weave personal reflections and soulful, atmospheric excursions with a stylistic vision that's matched only by peers like Solange and Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes. The geographically unbound Kindness explains how each of the album’s songs came together.
“Sibambaneni” "This was inspired by the best parts of a visit to Johannesburg. My mother's family are Indians who immigrated to South Africa, and who experienced some really horrible things under apartheid. I didn't really want to go back, but I went in 2016 and had both good and bad experiences. And the good of the experience was often finding a mutual understanding with other queer and non-white communities there. That was very cathartic and positive, and the idea of standing in solidarity and attempting to uplift each other was what we tried to put into the song."
"Raise Up” “This is the more positive continuation of 'Sibambaneni.’ You can’t really have light without dark. The piano comes in and the beat comes in, and it’s just trying to get closer to that communal euphoria—the joy of these voices singing together. These first two songs have string contributions from Rob Moose and vocals from my friends Bryndon Cook and Amanda Khiri.”
"Lost Without" (feat. Seinabo Sey) “What I hope is the first of many songs with Seinabo. The song was originally written by myself and Kelela. We did a demo that was quite far removed from this, around the time of my last album. I always think it’s nice to have these little foundational pieces that carry on from one project to the next. The incredible bass was recorded in Johannesburg, the lead vocals in Stockholm, and the rest of the instrumentation in New York, where 99 percent of this record was made.”
"Softness as a Weapon” "Mixing is a key part of making records for me. But I’m absolutely not a mixer; it’s too technical, too many decisions. This was the first track that Philippe mixed, and working with him was like coming home. So absolutely natural yet also insanely exciting. I remember him pushing the volume of new vocal effects he recorded and taking the song to a really extreme place which no one else could have done. This whole album is a testament to our friendship and collaboration."
"Hard to Believe" (feat. Jazmine Sullivan) "Jazmine Sullivan posted an Instagram story about her song 'Bust Your Windows,' saying how she’d want strings on everything if she could have them. I was in the middle of writing a song which I knew would have some, so I went out on a limb and sent it to her management. We followed up maybe a thousand times, but the persistence was worth it. It’s kinda nice to have Jazmine and Bahamadia on the same record, too. This is definitely my East Coast album."
"Who You Give Your Heart To" (feat. Alexandria) "I’ve been a fan of Alexandria since 2014’s Rebirth. This is inspired by house projects like Nuyorican Soul—by vocal house and where those arrangements can take you."
"Samthing’s Interlude" (feat. Samthing Soweto) "I always love LPs where someone takes an interlude and resets the energy for a moment. It was amazing to come across Samthing’s music online and then meet him in Joburg. If you have a chance, listen to the song which introduced me to him: ‘Kwamampela.'"
"Dreams Fall" "I moderated Robyn’s lecture for Red Bull Music Academy in 2018, and perhaps this was a little window of fate. I had been chipping away at a few songs—this one, ‘Cry Everything,' and ‘Softness as a Weapon’—but really needed a second pair of ears. She came into the studio and instinctively knew what the right move was for each. I’m indebted to her, both for our collaborations and songs like these where I get to pick her songwriter’s brain. That said, she is quite audibly singing a very country-esque background oooh in the breakdown of the track."
"The Warning" (feat. Robyn) “I remember playing ‘Who Do You Love?’ from [2014’s] Otherness to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Robyn and I were working with them at the time on songs I truly hope we’ll one day finish. Terry was horrified by 'Who Do You Love?’—all loping rhythm, asymmetry, and fidgety arrangement. I can understand his point. But a few weeks later, we played them this and his reaction was a smile, and one of relief. I think it’s wonderful to have finally made something approaching a straightforward ballad with Robyn, as her voice is heartbreaking when most unadorned. This is also the first song she and I wrote together."
"Cry Everything” "There are a lot less samples on this LP than on previous ones. I think samples should really sound like samples—enormous-sounding, otherworldly, too much to be the product of any one individual. That’s what’s amazing about using samples sometimes: It’s a hybrid song which couldn’t exist in the scale of ambition it has if it weren’t for the original composition. I’m grateful to have been able to use Todd Rundgren’s voice in this song. The original, 'Pretending to Care,' was just already such a beautiful and profound piece of music that it was interesting to try and do something respectful, but also make it sound huge.”
"No New Lies" (feat. Cosima) "These last three songs are kind of the moody ending to an otherwise uptempo record. 'No New Lies' was such a fantastic title from Cosima, and we built the track around her energy. This song also manages to do something I’ve always wanted to do and builds into another completely separate track. I had charts on my walls for years of keys and tempos, always on the lookout for when a song idea might end up blending into another.”
"Something Like a War" (feat. Bahamadia) "With the last LP, I felt like there was something incongruous working with American MCs when I was based in London, but this record really brought me close to all of the incredible musicianship close to home in NYC and the surrounding cities. It took a little time to make contact, but it was so worth it. Bahamadia has long been a hero. Her work on Kollage and Roni Size’s New Forms LP are super formative for me. Everything she touches is golden. This song was part of a longer thematic discussion. She wanted to see the rest of the lyrics for the record and hear as much as she could, and then extrapolate from there.”
"Call It Down" (feat. Cosima and Nadia Nair) "This is sort of in keeping with the traditions of vinyl sequencing—you put your soft and drumless tracks at the end of a side of vinyl, where there’s less loudness and dynamic range. As a listener who enjoys records released in the vinyl era, there are a lot of peaceful last songs in my collection. This was inadvertently one of those, and brings together so many of the team who worked on this LP: Philippe on the mix, Daniel Aged on bass, Rob Moose on strings, Hanna Benn on choral vocals, and Cosima and Nadia Nair singing lead with me. It’s bonkers to me that we get to make records. I can’t tell you how honored I feel to have made this one with so many incredible people.”