As respected as the duo of Carmine Conte and Matteo Milleri are in house and techno circles, Endless—an album on a label that's home to classically trained artists like Francesco Tristano, Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson—feels like an audacious move. It was R&S boss Renaat Vandepapeliere who first planted the idea in their heads, Conte and Milleri told XLR8R in 2015. After hearing "Distante," a beatless track the duo released for free as part of Nils Frahm's Piano Day in 2015, Vandepapeliere expressed interest in signing an album of similar material. R&S never got to release the record, but the Belgian's advice stayed with them. "Distante," which appears on Endless, has inspired an entire LP of sombre, meandering music that tries desperately to tug at your heartstrings, but never quite gets a good enough grip.
Tale Of Us have never been ones for subtlety. They've built a glittering career from overtly emotional music that demands a certain kind of emotional response. Like the gloomy, dramatic tech house of their DJ sets and EPs, Endless's musical tropes are designed to engender introspection or feelings of sadness. Heavy delay, sweeping strings and minor-key melodies crop up repeatedly, sometimes to stirring effect ("Dilemma") but mostly as a way of heightening atmosphere and filling the space. "Ricordi," which loops a bed of crackle and hiss beneath a lilting piano line, wouldn't be vaguely dramatic were the whole thing not soaked in reverb. Similarly, no amount of delay will hide the aimless plod of the piano on "Oltre La Vita," the album's weakest cut. Too often, it feels like the FX have been deployed to mask a lack of ideas.
It's not all so middling. Tale Of Us's strengths lie in their otherworldly sound design. They're experts at mood and texture. Not much happens in opening track "Definizione Dell'Impossibile"—some piercing keys here, a foggy synth there—but you could cut the tension with a knife. At the other end of the record, on "Quello Che Resta," the atmosphere is almost upbeat, as boomy puffs of percussion cradle deft twinkles and a hauntingly beautiful piano line. The elements hang together in a gentle sway, backed by the patter of rain on a window. It's easily the album's standout.
In the liner notes of Ambient 1 (Music For Airports), Brain Eno said that the music on that album should be "as ignorable as it is interesting." This sort of music is for relaxing to, for working to, for having on in the background. But that doesn't mean it has to be dull or, as is the the case with Endless, schmalzy. Tale Of Us's debut isn't boring, but there's nothing particularly original or challenging about it either. Rather than quietly bringing you under its spell, it's music that urges you to feel a certain way. Only diehard fans will take comfort in its bombast.