Nils Frahm’s Felt has already championed the act of conveying warmth and life through the piano this year, and John McCaffrey (aka Scissors and Sellotape) seems to carry a similar objective with this latest full length. But where the intimacy of Frahm’s effort originates from night-time sessions in his own house, For the Tired and Ill at Ease comes wrapped in the grand reverb of St Mary’s Church in Thornbury – the intimacy arrives as an embrace from all sides, with an emotional immediacy of soft notes and pedal clunks neatly juxtaposed with a sense of time blurred and distorted by the washes of echo. The likes of “Join the Club” and “Words of Support” are purpose-built for such a venue, and leave a withering melancholy to lap up against the walls.
There are points at which the piano isn’t permitted to resonate mournfully on its own in this manner, with McCaffrey introducing the company of decorative glitches or reverse notes. I’d argue for the omission of a majority of these synthetic textures and effects – not only are they rather obvious and overused sonic tools of the ambient composer, but the album is also substantially more engaging when focus is placed the vast space that quietly engulfs the piano’s slow, reverberant decay. Particularly during those moments that a genuine human fragility glows within the droplets of melody – through which a weary simplicity carries the instrument through a slow, gentle stream of chords – even a slight dusting of synthetic texture feels like an intrusive presence. For the Tired and Ill at Ease shines when the piano is left the carry the emotional weight of these compositions by itself. Often the music feels overwhelmed by its venue during these moments, resounding as a singular quivering voice in a space usually occupied by triumphant angelic chorus, but therein lays the record’s central charm.