Why Timber Timbre Should Win the Polaris Prize

photo courtesy Queen's University
photo courtesy Queen’s University

by Michael Thomas

A mere three years ago, Timber Timbre was in the running for the aptly-named Creep on Creepin’ On. It brought an expansion to the band’s previously sparse sound and may have single-handedly birthed the “creep-folk” genre.

And then, in December 2013, the band began teasing their new album, with a decidedly un-creepy title: Hot Dreams. Was Timber Timbre undergoing another transformation? As it turns out, the album title is almost a fakeout, and a good one at that. What Hot Dreams actually turned out to be was a record for mastery. If Creep on Creepin’ On was creepy, then Hot Dreams is outright terrifying. It is because this album is an album of mastery that it deserves to take the prize.

Another tenement of a masterful album is that of collaboration. Taylor Kirk has his usual co-conspirators in Simon Trottier and Mika Posen, and he’s once again brought master saxophonist Colin Stetson (playing “atypically velvet” tones, apparently) along for the ride. But he doesn’t stop there—on “Curtains?!” and “Bring Me Simple Men” he sings songs written by the wonderful Simone Schmidt. Her moody songwriting is a perfect fit for the moody band.

Musically, the album never gets too complex, allowing each individual instrument to sink its teeth in, so to speak. Funereal organs create a sense of dread in “Beat the Drum Slowly” and “The New Tomorrow.” Careful guitar picking makes “Bring Me Simple Men” and “The Three Sisters” are warnings that there’s plenty more to come. And let’s not forget about the bass, which delivers a solid thrashing in songs like “Curtains?!”

It’s when Kirk sings that the songs take on a blanket of darkness that even the gloomiest Canadian songwriter can’t even begin to match. “Grand Canyon” could be a pleasant downtempo travel song if it wasn’t for this lyric: “I pray the Grand Canyon take our plane inside its mouth.”

Mika Posen’s wonderful if eerie strings bring “This Low Commotion” to a start, like something straight out of a horror movie, and Kirk begins singing about spurned love: “You turned me on then you turned on me.” The chorus then says “this low commotion is going down” without ever specifying what exactly that is; it’s not the only time Kirk’s lyrics sound like threats.

Perhaps the most hair-raising song begins the most simply. “Run From Me” is accompanied, for a large portion of the song, by one piano note every 1.5 seconds or so. It makes Kirk’s lyrics, like “Run my good darling/Run my good wife/You better run/You better run for your life” outright soul-crushing. As the song approaches the two-minute mark, the instruments start to come in—strummed acoustic guitar, strings, angelic vocals—and the threatening lyrics become more and more real.

There’s even darkness in “Hot Dreams” the song, which on the surface seems to be a ballad. The gentle guitar and piano and Stetson’s saxophone solo later on make this one of the sexiest songs ever written, but one single line can change what the song might mean to some people. Just one line: “I want to follow through on all my promises and threats to you babe.”

Hot Dreams is the lean and terrifying machine that Creep on Creepin’ On wasn’t quite, and for Timber Timbre’s undeniable mastery of of its form, not present in any other album on this list, this album should go all the way. No Canadian album will ever out-creep it. And let’s face it—we could all use an image of Canada that isn’t one of apologetic politeness.

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