Tim Exile – or Timothy Shaw to his friends – certainly knows his way around a DJ booth. From custom software to live vocal manipulation through the use of a PC joystick, he’s a tech savvy character. But what, exactly, does that count for away from the live arena?
Listening Tree, his third release, sees Exile embrace a greater pop influence than his previous efforts. When those efforts include gabba and breakcore, however, Listening Tree could make your granny cry and still be a tamer beast than it’s predecessors.
Happily for granny, she can dust off her subwoofer: this album, though at times an obscure experience to the untrained ear, is at other times Royksopp-like, though never to the point of radio friendliness.
The risk ran, of course, is that such a comparatively watered down approach could very easily land Listening Tree firmly in aural purgatory: too low-fat for purists; too inaccessible for casuals. In reality, Exile’s occupation of such territory tends to compromise the end result more often than not – at least to an accent.
Not that Listening Tree is without its moments of inspiration. Don’t Think We’re One, for example (the poppiest track, admittedly), graduates from some retro synth and a languid beat to a raucous, rhythmic electro stomp.
Similarly, Family Galaxy – the first single – indulges in relative absorbable tranquility before coming over all hardcore and evolving into an ear-bruising, almost hard house-type cacophony.
And mainstream leanings go on: There’s Nothing Left Of Me But Her And This is able to boast some jaunty blips and the most infectious melody on the album, and Pay Tomorrow isn’t too far removed from an angry Pet Shop Boys.
All that glitters, however, is not gold, and one of Listening Tree’s main sticking points – away from the purist-appeasing instrumentals – is the inclusion of its creator’s lyrics and his vocalisation thereof.
At times – on the toned down tracks mostly – Tim’s voice is idiosyncratic, something easily recognisable among his peers. On the other hand, as the album progresses, there’s a tendency to layer a deep, almost chanting vocal that at times comes across as a parody of robo-electro acts of yesteryear.
The lyrics, meanwhile, veer quite tellingly between the provocative and inane, philosophy graduate Tim channelling sixth form poetry from time to time – Pay Tomorrow’s anti-credit rant being particularly guilty.
Gripes aside, it’s hard to tell whether or not Listening Tree possesses enough to transcend its genre, even during the moments Exile has his commercial cap planted firmly on his head.
That said, while the sudden chord, key and time signature changes can come across as jarring at times, they’re the kind of IDM staple that will keep the relevant ears interested, and that, perhaps, is what Tim Exile was after. The mainstream trappings, however, would seem to suggest otherwise.