Album Review: Stuart A Staples – Music for Claire Danis’ High Life

Out on its physical formats on May 3rd via City Slang is Tindersticks’ Stuart A Staples soundtrack for Claire Denis’ first English language film, High Life.

In the gaps between Tindersticks records / haitus’, Staples has worked extensively with Davis, and this feature, focusing on a group of criminals who are tricked into believing they will be freed if they participate in a mission to travel on a spaceship towards a black hole to find an alternate energy source while being sexually experimented on by the scientists on board, features Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche in the lead roles.

Staples’ spoke about his new work, saying: “Most of the music for “High Life” was made before the filming. The conversation with Claire started maybe as far back as 2012. There were many ideas I wanted to explore and I appreciated the foresight of Claire and the producers in offering me support and encouragement to do this. As well as work with usual collaborators Dan McKinna, Neil Fraser and Earl Harvin, this afforded me purely experimental recording sessions with David Coulter, Thomas Bloch, David Okumu, Julian Siegel, Seb Rochford and the BBC singers.

Several long sketches / pieces were created from these sessions that the eventual score was formed from or informed by. I approached ‘High Life’ with the simple idea of creating a sort of random music, existing in a void – like the constellations themselves – a framework that was always hidden from the musician and that they had only minimal or no information to play or react to as we recorded. The first piece completed was “The Yellow Light” for the early Claire Denis / Olafur Eliasson collaborative short film ‘Contact’ (2014). For this, each instrument / part was played into silence with arbitrary start points creating random movements and relationships when brought together. This theme / way of working runs through the entire making of the score for ‘High Life’. Musicians generally worked ‘in the darkness’.

As such, it’s no surprise that much of the album has this airy ambiance about it, heavily based on drones and single notes that fade in and out. Such is Staples skill that he manages to retain interest even without the visuals. It has that menace, that suffocating sense of both foreboding and also the infinite nature of space that runs through the veins of these carefully placed sounds. Melodies as such as usually limited to a few notes, but they still create this uneasy calm.

Much of the music has this troubled feel about it, with some little more than the sketches, merely incidental in nature and not troubling much over a minute, some like the intriguingly titled The Fuck Box and Insemination much more substantial in nature, although still kept on a tight reign in terms of colour and range by Staples.

At the centre of everything is a 12 minute Boyse’s Death, a piece that revels in its own slow unraveling, fermenting in these rippling chords and sounds and making on cursory efforts to evolve, other than these swells of sound. Even that is overshadowed by the final track proper on the soundtrack, Willow, credited as a Tindersticks track and featuring Robert Pattison, in character, on vocals. It’s heart-stopping stuff, in the usual cascading guitar / twinkling synths / sedate shuffles, and it’s quite lovely.

Although not filled with songs in the traditional sense, Stuart A Staples has created an interesting, shrouded thing of beauty that’s worth investing some time in.

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