Timber Timbre’s name may strike some as too clever by half, but on first impressions it seems to sum up their music rather well.
Formed in Toronto but often choosing to record in more rustic settings (their moniker refers to the timber cabin in the Ontario woods where early tracks were laid down) this trio of multi-instrumentalists, led by singer-songwriter Taylor Kirk, have gained a reputation in their homeland for producing a distinctively gothic brand of folk-blues that evokes Sleepy Hollow-like images of being lost among wintry, spectral trees on a dark, unforgiving night.
Perhaps their closest musical cousin is the Texan maverick troubadour Micah P Hinson, but overall Timber Timbre are very much ploughing their own furrow. What’s more, dig a little deeper and there’s actually a lot more going on here than you’ll find with your average Bon Iver inspired maudlin backwoodsman.
Creep On Creepin’ On is the group’s fourth release and their first since their 2009 self-titled album was placed on the long list for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury. This recognition seems to have had a positive impact on Timber Timbre and inspired them to come up with their most assured and coherent collection of songs yet; challenging yet often accessible, claustrophobic but at times also warm, hypnotic and expressive.
While their earlier records were built largely around the acoustic guitar, Creep On Creepin’ On has an altogether fuller, more varied sound, with strings, brass, organ and woodwind featuring prominently. Despite the rather bleak lyrics, often reflecting on man’s sense of hopelessness and failure, many of the arrangements here are surprisingly upbeat and contemporary, underpinned by subliminally funky rhythms and embracing doo wop and even hip hop.
Opening track Bad Ritual is a case in point. In the best murder ballad tradition, Kirk sings menacingly “there’s a head on the bed and the clock has stopped ticking” but he’s backed by insistent, off kilter piano chords strangely reminiscent of Jay Z‘s Hard Knock Life. The woozy Black Water recalls Air‘s Playground Love; the title track starts off prettily with honeyed guitar chords and shimmering violin before closing with an eerily languid saxophone solo that would almost certainly give Kenny G nightmares.
Furthering the sonic experimentation are Creep On Creepin’ On’s three instrumentals, which give free rein to Timber Timbre’s most surreal leanings. Obelisk and Swamp Thing in particular are horror film soundtracks in waiting; dense, sinister compositions that bear the influence of John Cage and even the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
The album peaks with Lonesome Hunter, an epic piece of dynamic chamber pop that sounds like Richard Hawley fronting Arcade Fire with Kirk’s mellifluous baritone crooning over atmospheric, weeping strings. Almost as impressive is Too Old To Die Young, which metamorphoses mid-song from ominously discordant Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like noise into a blissful hymn to the frailties of the human condition that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of John Lennon‘s vintage solo albums, with Kirk chanting defiantly “I’m giving it all up now”.
Let’s hope he doesn’t, because Creep On Creepin’ On is a richly textured, intriguing piece of work that bears up well to repeated listens. Canada is a fertile breeding ground for intelligent, orchestrated indie-rock acts at present, yet Timber Timbre prove here they bring something uniquely interesting to the table that should guarantee them a loyal audience going forward. Gothic and spooky yes, but the folk-blues tag doesn’t do this excellent band justice when they can make records of this depth and complexity.