Adam Bainbridge is not your typical underground dance music/alternative R&B kinda guy. His late grandmother was Amina Desai, a renowned South African political prisoner; his uncle John Blacking was a respected ethnomusicologist, and his first release was a product of a fellowship at the Philadelphia Institute for Advance Study. Bainbridge is known as Kindness, and his croon suggests a smoother variant on the striking warble of Arthur Russell. His last album, 2012′s World, You Need a Change of Mind, featured a wobbly Balearic take on the Replacements’ “Swingin Party,” and this new one samples Art of Noise, Herbie Hancock and obscure ’80s club funk.
Like his uncle, Bainbridge studies social anthropology through sound. Unlike Change of Mind, which often resembled a singer-songwriter record with better beats, Otherness is more of a producer’s showcase. Having coproduced, arranged and played on Blood Orange‘s justly lauded Cupid Deluxe, Bainbridge has earned the right to flaunt cameos that for others would suggest too much hipness: Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes sings and plays on the softly anguished “Why Don’t You Love Me”; Kelela of last year’s acclaimed mixtape Cut 4 Me appears on a few tracks, and — holy smokes! — Swedish pop supernova Robyn fronts the anxious love song “Who Do You Love,” which interweaves nearly medieval organ swells, a hiccupping jazz-fusion bassline, and walloping snare drum cracks that recall Janet Jackson at her nastiest.
Sometimes Bainbridge’s academic background steps unnecessarily to the foreground: Referencing Tracy Chapman and Bob Marley amid his bilingual rhymes, Ghanaian rapper M.anifest’s sudden appearance midway through “8th Wonder” trips up an otherwise hushed and mournful track featuring sighing saxophones and rippling harp. But mostly his uncommon combinations work: Bainbridge’s voice blends tenderly with Kelela and Ade Omotayo on the auspicious opening “World Restart,” and his finessed layers of programmed elements and sensitive chamber music performances charm throughout. For someone steeped in ethnomusicology, “otherness” is charged with significance, but in Bainbridge’s hands, it could easily mean something simpler: There is no other like him.