(Arts & Crafts)
The addictive nocturnal noir of this trio’s 2009 eponymous
release – maybe best described on that LP as “basement séances” – brought to
mind other artists composing in seductive blue-hour shades, but did it without
sounding like any of them. The band’s doomed romanticism hinted at the
Tindersticks, its twisted ballads faintly echoed Nick Cave, and the paeans to
sleep-stealing obsessions suggested a new Millennium Greg Dhulli. But Timber
Timbre delivered its haunted vignettes at sub-crawling tempos and in
arrangements so spare – minimalist piano plunking, creepy organ shades, brushed
percussion and low-flame guitar figures – that it felt like the songs would
crumble apart if hurried further or burdened with more sonic elements. The
limited sonic palette made the eight tracks seem like just enough — and, to a
disconcerting degree, the band’s follow-up bears that out.
Singer Taylor Kirk’s narratives still root around in the
emotional complexities of compulsions, clearly his songwriting sine qua non. And, as usual, the
familiarity of obsession trumps logic or behavior modification every time.
“It’s a bad, bad ritual/But it calms me down,” Kirk sing-speaks over
one-step-removed-from-“Chopsticks”-piano and a wobbly bassline on the catchy
opener “Bad Ritual.” The similarly paced “Black Water” adds essential twists of
judicious saxophone and harpsichord-like keys as Kirk’s chorus-cum-incantation
laments that “All I need is some sunshine” — though we know well and good he’s
unlikely to step out from the shadows.
Like the best Timber Timbre songs, the creeping pace and
simple arrangements belie the wire-taught tension at the songs’ core. With a
voice that blends the deliveries of Dhulli and the Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples
into a laconic but dramatic new entity, Kirk always sounds like he’s singing
from the surreal space between reverie and wakefulness. That’s
the twilight zone Timber Timbre occupies, the place where our
subconscious roams free and awareness only adds to the feeling of helplessness.
The track “Woman” expands the band’s palette into that nightmarish territory
with strange slide guitar lines that zing off into clouds of eerie distortion, while
the more insistent tempo and girl group-like harmonies behind “Too Old To Die
Young” dial up the inevitable fruitlessness in Kirk’s promise of “giving it all
up.” Naturally, pheromone-driven fixations form the bottom-line DNA of the
singer’s investigations, nowhere more so than on “Do I Have Power,” where
Kirk’s query — “do I have power over it?” – reads entirely rhetorical.
The whole package heightens the sense that you’re
right there when obsession wins out and steers events down their
fatalistic paths. Yet as fitting as Kirk’s noir-ish vocals are, their emotional
neutrality reinforces the singer’s — and songs’ — limited range. And with its
basic sonics and two-speed tempos (slow and slower) on top of narratives
uniformly compelled by compulsion, Timber Timbre skirts redundancy with almost
every track. In particular, the nearly omnipresent plinking piano comes very
close to hijacking the entire record. Three instrumentals that deviate from the
formula sound like thriller or horror-film soundtrack segments, but their
efficacy at adding contrast is minimal; they are, instead, mere respites.
Timber Timbre mines a rich narrative vein, and for the most part does it well
enough that the band’s limitations tend to be overlooked. At least that’s been
the case until now – Creep On Creepin’ On suggests that in the future, change should be in the cards because wherever
inevitability leads, boredom stalks it as well.
DOWNLOAD: “Bad Ritual”
“Creep On Creepin’ On” JOHN SCHACHT