Timber Timbre’s last outing, the excellent Keep On Creepin’ On, was met with almost universal indifference outside of their native Canada, where they received a number of richly deserved award nominations. Musically innovative and richly textured, their bleak but compelling orchestral folk noir boasted a wide array of influences, ranging from fellow Canuck noise merchants Godspeed You! Black Emperor to vintage solo John Lennon and even hip-hop.
Three years on, multi-instrumentalist Taylor Kirk has opted to hand over greater creative responsibility to long-time collaborator Simon Trottier, who steps forward to join Kirk as co-composer & producer on Hot Dreams. In many ways, the end results are similar to Keep On Creepin’ On, but there are some noticeable progressions too.
Generally speaking, the long, menacing-sounding instrumentals that occupied a significant chunk of Keep On Creepin’ On’s track listing are used more sparingly, restricted to the cinematic Resurrection Drive Part II and closing cut The Three Sisters. What we have instead – perhaps because of the time Kirk spent in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles while writing the songs on Hot Dreams – is a noticeable shift towards American alt-country, evident from the first acoustic strums of hypnotic opening track Beat The Drum Slowly.
This influence is particularly noticeable on the elegantly wistful Grand Canyon, which sounds like the best song The Handsome Family never wrote, although Kirk still can’t resist a burst of discordant weirdness in the middle to stop the dustbowl twang becoming too predictable. Bring Me Simple Men sees Kirk at his most threatening and foreboding, crooning “every big shot is a hunter, every hunter has his prey” above some woozily ominous guitar chords. It’s country, sure, but not as we know it.
When he chooses, Kirk can conjure up shafts of light to break through the darkness and create music that is beautiful in its simplicity, and the Hot Dreams title track is probably the finest example of this in his career to date. A heartbreakingly lovely, old fashioned ballad that matches Richard Hawley at the peak of his powers, its stately pace and lovelorn lyrics such as “I want to rise up beside you, I want to be a champion in your eyes” bring the album to an early highpoint, not least because it proves Timber Timbre can write songs that are emotionally sincere without the slightly warped creepiness that inhabits most of their work. It even has that rare thing in popular music – a saxophone solo that doesn’t irritate courtesy of the splendidly named Colin Stetson.
Not everything on Hot Dreams works so well – Curtains is rather jarring, lacking a memorable melody, while the instrumentals remain somewhat self-indulgent. But when Timber Timbre are at their best, as on the title track and the slow building, hymnal Run From Me, with its soaring female backing vocals underpinned by an old time R&B bass line, they are a force to be reckoned with that sound that’s like nothing else out there.
Overall, Hot Dreams doesn’t quite match up to the trio’s last record – it lacks a comparable number of top notch songs – but it still has some great moments. This is a band unafraid to plough its own furrow, with an intricately arranged sonic universe that is distinctly their own. When combined with vividly poetic couplets like “A faded tray of the golden age/it flickered out into celluloid ashes” (from Beat The Drum Slowly) the end result is something uniquely disturbing and strange.