David Prowse plays drums and shouts a lot in a band called Japandroids. He spends most of his days and nights in tour vans and hotel rooms, but calls Vancouver home.
When I think of Timber Timbre, two things come to mind: mushrooms and treats. Let me explain.
I fell in love with Taylor Kirk and his group Timber Timbre’s music back in 2009. I was DJing at CJSF/90.1, a college radio station in Vancouver, and spent a lot of time combing through their music library. I stumbled upon Timber Timbre’s then-recently released self-titled record, their third overall and first for Canadian mega-indie Arts & Crafts, and gave it a listen, and became increasingly obsessed. That summer, Kirk came to town and played one of my favourite music festivals, Music Waste. I took some mushrooms before the show. It was a short set — everything ran late because it was in a non-venue with five bands on the bill — and he ended up playing only four songs, but that short set was still pretty magical. Afterwards, I cornered him and briefly talked his ear off, managing to convince him and his band to come with my friends and me to an after-party at the nearby Astoria bar.
They had a band meeting halfway through our walk through the downtown east side and abandoned ship after realizing that they probably needed to find somewhere to park their van where it wouldn’t be in one of the sketchiest corners of the city all night. It was a funny, weird night. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I would say my five-minute interaction with Kirk leaned more towards being a fanboy weirdo pestering the artist/band, rather than being any kind of “meeting of the minds.” I still feel like I’m much more of a fan than a peer, even if some people now consider me to be a “professional musician.”
Anyway, around this time Timber Timbre evolved from a spooky solo folk project to a spooky rock band, as Kirk began playing and collaborating with violinist Mika Posen and multi-instrumentalist Simon Trottier. Posen and Trottier have been involved with the last two records, and their influence is felt the most on the band’s new album (and fifth overall) Hot Dreams, which Trottier co-composed and co-produced. As always, Kirk’s creepy croon is front and centre for the majority of the album, but it sounds like a band working together, and features numerous guest spots for sultry saxophone or soaring female vocals. Everything feels like it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be, and nothing is wasted on any song.
“Grand Canyon” is probably my favourite jam on this record. I love how hopeful it sounds, even if it is about wishing your plane would crash with you in it. I’ve been listening to a lot of Lee Hazlewood lately, and it reminds me a lot of that stuff — not in a blatant rip-off kind of way, just in a “we like this guy a lot, let’s do our take on what he did” kind of vibe. After a couple of rounds of the verse, the country instrumentation melts away and high-pitched synths and swirling saxophone seamlessly come out of nowhere. The song returns to the central twangy guitar riff, this time doubled up by hammered dulcimer. I think. Whatever that instrument is, it’s a treat. The saxophone and toy piano too. I remember my friend Colin Stewart (a great engineer and producer, as well as just a good dude) referring to having “treats” on a recording. You know those little touches that aren’t really necessary for the song but just take it to another level? Those details that grab your attention when you’re listening to it stoned on headphones? Treats.
Hot Dreams has a lot of treats in it. It’s a beautiful-sounding album, and everything seems perfectly placed in the arrangements. But I think the reason I love Timber Timbre is because there’s always this looming darkness underneath all that gorgeousness. It’s that tension and that brooding, spooky melancholy feeling, underpinning all the beauty on the surface. I suppose what really draws you in is Kirk’s voice; there’s something beautiful and distressing in the way he serenades you, a lullaby that will soothe you to sleep but also give you nightmares. There are times when you almost forget what he’s singing about. Almost. And then all of a sudden you notice lines like “Run from me, darlin’/You better run for your life” or “I wanna follow through on all my promises and threats to you.” These are grandiose, beautiful songs about evil.
You can tell Kirk & co. are big fans of Nick Cave, Joe Meek, and Lee Hazlewood, and they continue to explore and combine those influences in an exciting way on Hot Dreams; all of the songs here connect to what the band has done before, but they also stretch out in different directions from their past work. “Curtains!?,” for example, is probably the most “rock” song I’ve ever heard by Timber Timbre. It’s got a great, simple, driving rhythm section, and a Cramps-style evil surf guitar line that comes in here and there. And yet it still sounds like Timber Timbre, even it doesn’t sound like anything Timber Timbre has done before.
My only real dig against this album is about the two instrumental tracks. “Resurrection Drive Part II” is a spooky little number, but ultimately it feels unnecessary and easily discarded. Kirk’s creepy croon is the icing on the band’s cake, and who wants cake without icing?
Which brings me to my final point: “Run from Me” should be the last track on the album. The melody at the beginning of that song sounds eerily similar to “No Bold Villain,” the last song on their self-titled 2009 album, which seems like a little subliminal message that Hot Dreams is drawing to a close. And just when you might start to get a little bored, Timber Timbre tip their hat to Roy Orbison and start a “Running Scared”-style build about halfway through the song. It’s pretty bold to invite comparisons to Roy Orbison, especially to “Running Scared,” which is one of the greatest recordings of all time. But they pull it off. The song keeps building and then reaches the soaring climax, very reminiscent to me of some Joe Meek recordings. Those beautiful soaring backing vocals sound so goddam amazing. And then they bring back that toy piano thing from “Grand Canyon.” MORE TREATS. This is a trip up to the peak of Sonic Candy Mountain. And then back to a classic “Running Scared”-style climactic ending. It’s pretty breathtaking.
And then for some strange reason, they felt the need to tack on an eerie, ambient instrumental jam called “The Three Sisters” that doesn’t really go anywhere. This could have been placed pretty much anywhere else on the record and made some sense, but at the end, it just feels like a letdown. But this is just a small disappointment on an album full of treats. Hot Dreams finds Timber Timbre continuing to carve a nice little niche for themselves in the music world (and my personal music collection) with their blend of the macabre and the beautiful. I’m looking forward to what they come up with next, and maybe even sharing another awkward conversation.