Since attending their debut full band show at the Pergola last summer I had been eagerly anticipating more from Bristol’s t l k. Their live show was marvellous, and if I remember correctly I quickly ran out of synonyms for ‘otherworldly’. Their debut five-track EP, Strength in Tenderness, is no exception.
Each of these tracks is meticulously constructed and deeply layered around a tender nucleus, like the world’s most iridescent artichoke. Opening track ‘Next To The Mirror’ begins with snatched breaths, almost anxious in their urgency, giving way to some airy tumbling piano as the vocal arrangement builds in density. The voices are crispy and the delays are wispy, with the doubles curling on themselves like the thin white steam emitted from a cup of cooling tea. Similarly, ‘IWNU’ begins with drawn breaths but instead opens the door to a saxophone so real-sounding I had to look around me to check if a) there wasn’t one behind me or b) I hadn’t fallen into one by accident and without realising. The point towards the end where the piano enters and the spaces seem to change and collapse is wonderful.
‘Most Alive’ is the most animated track of the five, as beneath the signature tumbling piano an increasingly anxious-sounding lattice of tessellated rhythms gathers strength, definition and power. On this, drums are nestled underneath three of these tracks and are strikingly disciplined and punchy. There’s not a single hit on the centre of a snare, for example – it’s all side stick all the time – but this does not come at the cost of any rhythmic complexity, and among some other elements of their broader sonic complexion seems to align t l k with Bristol’s trip-hop milieu.
The music here is intimate and vulnerable and takes place within spaces of such elevated reality. Like the tiny wheels in a clock every moving part has a purpose but there’s also a hell of a lot of ear candy for those of you with fancy monitors and big headphones. There is no space left undecorated, and in the hands of others this might have lead to something busy and overcrowded, but here the result is wonderfully complex in a way that rewards repeat listens. You can sense the project is governed by tight control of dynamics and vibe and guided by a palpable sense of restraint – that within the composition and production philosophy the scattergun has been rejected in favour of some sonic implement far more precise. True to the name, there’s a great deal of strength to be found in these five tracks and I’ve got my ears peeled for any more to come. You should too.
Words: Ed Hambly // Photo: Giulia Spadafora
‘Strength in Tenderness’ is out now. Stream and purchase the full EP via Bandcamp.