Review Summary: On their fifth album, Timber Timbre veer wildly into directions both weird and wonderful.
Timber Timbre honed their spectral folk and blues-tinged indie rock to a dizzying high point on 2011’s Creep On Creepin’ On
, a seething cauldron of spine-tingling instrumentals, swooning doo-wop melodies, and tales of lustful necromancy courtesy of frontman Taylor Kirk. Making good on the promise shown on past albums, it was both beautiful and strange, but also a clear push to a fuller and more confident sound. Creep
was also a surprise hit, debuting at #21 on their native Canada’s album charts and getting shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
In 2014, Timber Timbre released the revelatory title track for follow-up Hot Dreams
—a candlelit soft-rock song featuring one of their most plainly beautiful choruses—as the album's lead-in single. The band seemed to be bringing their sound into even more tuneful domain; it could’ve fit on any Eagles album, if it weren’t for the chilling Mellotron strings scraping the top of the mix and Kirk’s oaky baritone singing about unrequited love driving him into a bitter downward spiral, reflected in Colin Stetson’s saxophone that agitated the chorus into a violently euphoric finish. It’s a perfect, gorgeous, and accessible realization of the sound they had been building toward for nine years, and a complete outlier on the album. Hot Dreams
is not a play for mainstream listenership; instead, the band veers wildly into directions weirder and more wonderful.
The album is particularly frontloaded with knotted and challenging tracks. Opener “Beat the Drum Slowly” apprehensively drifts in like tumbleweed in a ghostly western town, alternating between dark country-leaning verses and noisy, grinding death marches. The oddly funky and atonal “Curtains!?” features grotesque guitar chords, a sudden dropout and buildup, and, uh... groups of men chanting—an obvious choice for the album’s second single, so the band thought. “Bring Me Simple Men” coasts on a quivering guitar riff and dizzying organ, Kirk brooding about acquiring “simple men, free from pride” for some nefarious digging in the dirt. By the time side A ends with “Resurrection Drive Pt. II”, a ragged instrumental with blaring saxophones and a top-down convertible swagger, it might dawn on the listener that remarkably pretty melodies in the vein of the title track (nestled among these at track number two) can be counted on one hand. That sounds like a criticism, but on the contrary these songs are superbly bizarre; hard to crack at first, but bewitching enough to encourage repeated listens, burrowing in over time.
As Hot Dreams
goes into its second half it becomes clear that the band, while demonstrating bolder and more jagged songwriting, are operating on an even higher level than they were on Creep
. They effortlessly slip back into that album’s lurching retro-rock on “This Low Commotion” ("Baby, you turned me on, then you turned on me") and “The New Tomorrow”, songs that radiate with a Nosferatu-like menace. “Run From Me” and “Grand Canyon” seem like Timber Timbre’s excursions into traditional American folk music—the former featuring a Morricone-esque voice soaring towards a crashing climax, the latter a galloping country number that’s torn apart by careening synthesizers and saxophone at the halfway point, creating a stunning chasm in the song that somehow recalls the landmark it’s named after. Throughout, omnipresent organs and Mellotrons hover above the rest of the instrumentation and help maintain a quintessentially eerie atmosphere, and the players put in their best performances to date, locking into an impressive (and still relatively newfound) full-band chemistry.
Kirk uprooted to Los Angeles to write this record, and the apparent influence of his surroundings bleeds into every aspect—the arrangements, the lyrics (“America, weren’t you our miracle? A fleeting chance at home?” he asks on “This Low Commotion”), the ever-ominous cover art. It does, at times, feel like their “California” album, replete with saxophones, brushed drums and heartbreak, but with grim hints of something prowling just out of sight. This is the Los Angeles that trembled at the Manson Family murders and the Night Stalker; sinister forces permeate Hot Dreams
, as on prior records—but now, they’re evading the bright California sun, doing their baleful deeds by cover of night.
is a somewhat difficult record that is punctuated by moments of intoxicating beauty, and as such it might take a few listens for it to reveal its charms. Still, it's an excellent album that sees the band firing on all cylinders, with songs that are even odder and more gorgeous than before. If earlier records were black and white 8MM horror schlock, Hot Dreams
opens up gloriously into a widescreen western vista, albeit with any kind of evil lurking in the far-reaching shadows.