Featured Album Review: "Hot Dreams" Timber Timbre

It's been a long walk for Taylor Kirk, the booming whisper at the fore of the Ontario-born Timber Timbre, a band that has evolved purposefully, slowly and -- if the fatalist poetry and melancholic beauty of the group's fifth album, "Hot Dreams," are to be taken at face value -- painfully.

On the band's first two albums, Timber Timbre rose hairs with bare-boned acoustic instrumentation and a quirky intelligence. "Oh Messiah," from the group's 2007 debut, "Medicinals," repurposed lyrics from "Twist and Shout" to exorcise a haunted corner of Kirk's mind. "Magic Arrow," from 2009's self-titled set, was so spare it creaked, providing the perfect soundtrack for a harrowing episode from the third season of "Breaking Bad." But with 2011's "Creep On Creepin' On," the group dramatically expanded the sound it had perfected, bringing in horns and a 1960s soul smear to big up and brighten up its walks through the petrichor.

"Hot Dreams," on the other hand, is confident in its quiet, even as it builds dramatically on the band's past work. The bombast is in the details: Kirk's Roy Orbison-esque baritone, buoyed by dusty spring reverbs; co-­composer/co-­producer Simon Trottier's artfully arranged string flourishes; bone-chilling church bells; Colin Stetson's saxophone cascading on the album's title track.

There's a moment early on in album standout "This Low Commotion" when the initial high drama of heartbroken violins cuts off sharply into a simple tremolo guitar line, over which Kirk muses: "What does it mean to be unhealthy badly, my love? To be in a bad state so well?" The contrast, the wide-open spaces in between, is geological in weight.

The album often recalls a film score, both spaghetti western and American gothic -- think psychedelic cowboy Lee Hazlewood with fever nightmares, an unopened bottle of absinthe on the nightstand. Indeed, a heartland mythology runs through the middle: "After Salt Lake City, I have time to close my eyes...I pray the Grand Canyon take our plane, inside its mouth," murmurs Kirk in "Grand Canyon."

Those lines embody the beautiful nocturnal creep that haunts "Hot Dreams" -- and a Timber Timbre show at Austin's Swan Dive at the most recent South by Southwest. "Can we turn these off?" Kirk asked, pointing at the bright blue and green overhead lights. "They're fucking awful." The stage went black, and the band eased on. 


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