If, as we discussed the other day, New Zealand is something of a failure when it comes to creating musical waves, Canada is surely the opposite. The great over-achiever; like Australian sports stars or Japanese technology, Canada creates far more than it’s fair share of bands.
So what’s that all about? Why does a country with a population equivalent to Morocco keep churning out so many fantastic musicians? Well gentle readers, I’m about to do something it’s very uncool to do in 2014 and praise politicians. Whilst under our current coalition government arts funding in the UK, which already did very little for our alternative music scene anyway, has been slashed. Our one publicly funded alternative radio station was saved from the brink of extinction by sheer will power from the huge amount of music fans in this country, and music is gradually being receded from our television screens in favour of shows about high-end hair cutting and Nigel Farage. Over in Canada it’s a different story!
Famously the Canadian Government, via the Canadian Music Fund, has funded music of all types. There’s also been a series of policies put in place to ensure Canadian music remains a vital part of the culture, for example at least 35% of music played on Canadian radio must be Canadian. Whilst this may be a tad nationalistic, by encouraging their musicians Canada have made a flourishing product the country has marketed worldwide to great success.
So, thanks Canadian government! You’ve given us some brilliant music! Indeed I would say some of my favourite bands are Canadian. Be it Neil Young or The Stills, The Dears or Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene or Metz there are many wonderful bands, indeed, I would go as far as to say there’s more great bands per head than any other country in the world!
There’s also Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, Sum-41 and Justin Bieber. I guess you can’t win them all…
TIMBER TIMBRE – HOT DREAMS
I first came across the Canadian trio Timber Timbre via the compilation End Of The Road gave out in promotion of the festival back in 2011. It featured their track Black Water, from their second album Creep On Creepin’ On, arguably the greatest album title of all time! Singer Taylor Kirk croaked the opening line “All I need is some sunshine” over a deeply disturbed sounding, creepy musical drop, creating an eery and anxious tension which was anything but sunny. Indeed the track puts you in mind of being seduced by Hannibal Lecter. It intrigued me, I went to see them play at EOTR, in a tent in the middle of the day, I was confronted by a wall of drones, a dark, disturbing place in complete contrast to what was occurring outside, they seemed to draw all the light from the world, and leave the listener in a deeply intimate and sombre place. Compelling yes, but not really a good time festival party band!
Upon hearing the title track and first single from their new album Hot Dreams, it’s clear that the elements that made Black Water a fascinating listen still remain, but also that this a band who have refined and improved that sound. They stick to a similar musical palette as their earlier work, but now the songwriting is stronger, the playing crisper and more thought through, and even the vocal, already a wonderful sound, sounds stronger than ever. As a lyricist Taylor seems to have realised the power of a striking opening line. Here he goes with “I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance with a black woman” his smooth baritone paired with a gentle waltz beat and gently strummed guitar chords. It again casts him as his favourite character, the part charming, part creepy admirer. If you weren’t paying attention you’d think it was a simple love song. One second he wanting to rise up beside you, be a champion in your eyes and follow through on all his promises, but as ever there’s a twist “I wanna take, I wanna take, I wanna take, take all of your air, I want to find, I want to find, I want to find another daydream, another nightmare”…… suddenly he doesn’t seem quite so charming! The song ends with a delightfully smoky, saxophone soloing over swathes of strings. Musically and also vocally there’s a touch of Richard Hawley about it, though picture if you can, Richard Hawley had he grown up living in a suburban North American attic with a pair of binoculars rather than a pub in South Yorkshire with a packet of fags.
The album has a wonderfully cinematic quality throughout. Curtains!? sounds like it’s lifted straight from a Tarantino movie, without wanting to dumb down the complexity of the musicianship, it just sounds effortlessly cool! There’s a delightful moment in the middle, where following the strutting, twanging guitar that marks the introduction the whole thing collapses to a single droning tape loop, and as a low slung bass line and tambourine kick in, it almost sounds like he’s about to break into Be My Baby, that he doesn’t is about the only criticism of the track!
Picking highlights from an album that flows so effortlessly from track to track, and should surely be enjoyed as a complete piece is taxing, but here they’re plentiful. Resurrection Drive Part II is a grandiose, dark instrumental number recalling the soaring majesty of The Dears. The Three Sisters an ominous harpsichord and guitar led track, closes the album but sounds too like the beginning of a new chapter, the music that plays over the closing credits of a movie when you already know the sequel has been written.
Bring Me Simple Men recalls the late, great Mark Linkous, with it’s opening wobbling, processed guitar line. The use of production tricks like this are all superbly done, each tiny detail adding to the feeling of insecurity the album creates. Lyrically it’s superbly crafted too, “Every big shot is a hunter, every hunters got his prey, you can tell me I’m a good sport, but that doesn’t make me game”, there’s something in the delivery, and lyrics that makes you feel as if you’re in his head. Linkous is not telling you his story, he’s putting you right in the middle of it, so you know the outcome before the other characters, but are helpless to change the outcome. You feel he’s as much influenced by Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles as he is Johnny Cash and Tom Waits.
That said, the influence of The Great American Songbook is clear on a track like Grand Canyon, it could be Johnny Cash covering Rhinestone Cowboy. Halfway through a delightfully, sleazy sax squalls a line that wouldn’t sound out of place on an 80’s Cop Show. Indeed there’s a wonderful seediness to the whole song; be it talks of motel venetian blinds, or the thrilling outro, full of strings, that sounds like a marimba and a steady heartbeat of a drum.
This Low Commotion, with it’s stabbed guitar line is a stunning tale of a lover who’s done you wrong. “I’m just a dog, a machine for your love. Do you know every man, every place that you’ve been? You turned me on, then you turned on me” croons Taylor, it’s straight from the Tom Waits book of cutting put downs. The chorus is given a wonderful lift by stabbed piano chords and swirling strings, indeed the song builds gently throughout to a thrillingly frantic ending, as the vocal drifts further into the background but seems to become more intense and pained, the sound of someone being dragged away, kicking and screaming.
Perhaps best, or at least creepiest, of all is Run From Me. A gentle meandering piano ballad, that sounds tender and beautiful despite the fact he’s singing “Run from me baby, run my good wife, run from me baby, you’d better run for your life” without the lyrical content it could be Frank Sinatra. The lyrics again are knowingly clever, in a track about running the line “Each time I see you, I contemplate, what I love most of all, your swinging gait” deserves only the highest praise. The track picks up with a strummed acoustic, as he resorts to simply repeating “Run”…. as if you wouldn’t have left already. Female vocals, frantically bowed strings, and a hollow marching drum, build the tension to new levels before there’s relief as the drums kick in fully, alongside a stunning bass line that truly gives you the feeling of fleeing for your life.
It’s a draining and harrowing listen but as rewarding as any album this year. In an era where the single is king and increasingly bands seem to be catering to the quick fix a 3 minute pop song brings, what a wonderful treat this album that requires attention, time and complete immersion is.
Hot Dreams is out now on Full Time Hobby. Timber Timbre play The Scala on the 16th of April and The Roadhouse in Manchester on the 17th as part of a full European Tour.