Timber Timbre got its start years ago when frontman Taylor Kirk chose to record a small collection of songs within a timber-framed cabin outside of Bobcaygeon–yes, the same town from The Tragically Hip song. The rustic, woody aesthetic of those recordings led to the creation of the band moniker as well as its first, appropriately-titled release: 2006’s Cedar Shakes.
Kirk’s woodland project sprouted from there; in 2009 the band was signed to Arts & Crafts, one of Canada’s most significant record labels for new music. The first two releases for the Montreal-based label, Timber Timbre (2009) and Creep On Creepin’ On (2011) grabbed nominations for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize. If you’re a fan of acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad and The Good Wife, then you’ve likely heard Timber Timbre’s songs featured on certain episodes.
While the band has seen a variety of bandmembers join and depart throughout the years, the current lineup involves a couple of true musical artists in Mika Posen (violin, viola, keyboards, percussion) and Simon Trottier (autoharp, lap steel guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar), both of whom offer the multi-instrumentalism that makes this iteration of Timber Timbre the most enriched yet.
All this leads to understandable hype for Timber Timbre’s latest album, Hot Dreams, released last month. As the album cover indicates, this fifth release transplants the band’s leitmotif from the chilly Canadian forests to the sun-baked deserts of the American Southwest. Psychedelic blues, alt-country, americana, blue-eyed soul–Kirk and co. weave their way through these genres and churn out a sound that could comfortably take a seat in the post-WII boom. It would be no surprise if one was told that Hot Dreams was a recently unearthed eight-track, buried in some arenose corner of the Mojave. Think of it as a cross between Josh Homme’s The Desert Sessions, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, and Edwyn Collins’ Gorgeous George, while taking some pages from a James M. Cain pulp thriller and the dusty vibes of a spaghetti western.
Album opener “Beat The Drum Slowly” suitably sets an eerie mood, as the grindhouse ambience viciously melts into a doomstep march of percussion and guitar, sliced up with slashes of distortion, mellotron and orchestral vibrato. Kirk’s vocals veer from the boozy to the theatrical to the vaguely threatening, while maintaining the lyrical disguises of a storyteller portending the ruins of civilization. It takes a cipher to navigate the poetic-yet-cynical appraisal of 20th century evolution: “The family jewels, the swimming pool / yards marked by emerald coffins / we heard crimes often and softly / a mystery mist, new systems shift / things recognized from television channels / nostalgia signals, unscrambled.” Appropriately, Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen animated the music video for “Beat The Drum Slowly”, which is certainly worth checking out for its eye-popping visuals alone.
Other choice cuts include the hellish instrumental “Resurrection Drive, Part II”, the sharply-dressed “Curtains!?”, and the titular “Hot Dreams”, where Kirk murmurs “I wanna follow through, follow through on all my promises and threats to you babe” in the manner of a seducer softly whispering in the listeners’ ear as he plunges the knife into their back. It is natural, then, for this to be the same track for the lounge saxophonist to invade in the enthralling outro.
Hot Dreams makes for a terrifyingly rapture as the listener is drawn into Timber Timbre’s thickly-layered existentialism. When Kirk airs out his commands in “Bring Me Simple Men”, the listener knows they have no choice but to be taken in. Any hope for good intentions on Kirk’s part is put to rest in “Grand Canyon”, where we’re all strapped in and aboard the plane as Kirk pleads it to crash into the Colorado River. Is it strange then, that this darkly gleeful track also works as the album’s most beautiful listen? The heartbeat rhythm, set to the pace of a steam train chugging steadily across the Old West desert, serves as a backdrop to the unexpected thrills of violin and sax. As those in Timber Timbre’s thrall, the only action we listeners can take is to give away our ears and gape.
Check out the recently released music video for “Curtains!?” here, in the low-key B&W of a hardboiled noir film.
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Author: Nathan Christie