BY JOHN SCHACHT
Timber Timbre is the dissolute house band at that end-of-the-trail, abandon-all-hope lounge, seducing and disorienting listeners by lulling them musically into chimerical comfort. The relaxed tempos and spacious arrangements of the Canadian band’s latest create deceptively calm backdrops, from haunting noir balladry to spaghetti western cinemascope. But once the listener buys in, singer Taylor Kirk enjoins them to reveal their darkest selves, to see motives and ethics for the fig leaves they are.
Through three full-lengths for Arts & Crafts, Kirk’s voice — part Richard Hawley romantic croak, part Stuart Staples evil whisper — has been the catnip in Timber Timbre’s louche-and-lovely songs, and the airy arrangements have wisely stayed out of its way. The same holds true here, whether sax wiz Colin Stetson is blowing mean lines on the soulful title cut; baritone and e-bow guitars sketch wide-screen vistas on “Beat the Drum Slowly”; or marxophone arpeggios and tubular bells share air-time with rich baritone guitar and strings on the Shirley Bassey-esque “Bring Me Simple Men.”
Whatever genres they recall, Timber Timbre own them entirely. The songs open at deliberate tempos, usually with a single instrument plucking or plunking the melody. Other instruments tease their way in leisurely, so that by the song-bridges —and few make these count like Timber Timbre — the effect is like a spotlight casting silhouettes that flesh out eventually into portraiture. But these “coarse imaginings,” as Kirk sings on “Grand Canyon,” are often as discomfiting as they are beguiling.
While plenty of bands self-immerse in dissolution for confessional song-material, Timber Timbre eschews any sense of faux sorrow or guilt. Apologies may be in order, but dwelling on things you’re likely to do again is entirely pointless; know your nature.
Take, for instance, the on-flight narrator of the heart-beat tempo shuffle “Grand Canyon,” whose casual musings on the itinerary includes a wish that the gaping natural hole will “take our plane inside its mouth.” Then there’s the husband on the lounge blues “Run From Me,” whose plea for his wife to “run from me darling, you better run for your life” is as honest — and therefore chilling — a concession as you’ll hear. And the narrator of waltz-of-the-doomed “This Low Commotion” makes no bones about the fact that he’s “just a dog, a machine to your love,” though he well knows that once “you turn me on/then you turn on me.”
These frank assessments underline Timber Timbre’s appeal — what lurks beneath such languid musical waters and our exteriors? What madness drives us? You know better than to ask, though of course you will, because in the answers you’ll recognize something primal about yourself. More than any previous Timber Timbre record, Hot Dreams simmers sonically with the chaos lurking just below these surfaces. Rarely does such calm feel so utterly foreboding.
Of course, by the time you realize all this you may well have been consumed in the process. “I wanna take, wanna take, take all of your air,” Kirk sings amid the luscious strings of the R&B-flavored title cut, giving voice to a litany of desires both dark and all-consuming. He’s also stating, in plain English, that the dance can be dangerous, if it doesn’t actually kill you. Still, what a way to go out here at the end-of-the-road lounge —with Hot Dreams streaming through your mind.
DOWNLOAD: “Beat the Drum Slowly,” “Bring Me Simple Men,” “Grand Canyon” “This Locomotion”