April

Timber Timbre//Hot Dreams

Hot Dreams opens in bizarre fashion. The ghostly sensuality of Beat The Drum Slowly sorta sets up the rest of the album in that sense. Sounding a bit like Portishead crossed with Destroyer, Timber Timbre’s fourth release is a peculiar mix of the fun-house with the earnest, like a 50s Vegas show trapped in The Twilight Zone.

Taylor Kirk’s rich baritone is smooth in a very classical sense, but with the subtle wryness of his contemporaries. You can tell he’s aware of the oddness of the sound, but is persisting through it anyway. On Curtains?! he even joins in the fun, slapping some gothic-sounding effects on his voice to create a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cramps album from half a century ago.

But all this strangeness would be for nothing if it was just odd. The classicism of the sound belies the complexity and assuredness of the tribute, and the instrumentation is the secret ingredient to the success of Hot Dreams. Simple, seductive, nostalgic, and almost clichéd but just too self-aware; it’s a mixture of James Bond guitar, horror show keyboard, soul singer drumming and enigmatic, rumbling basslines. The symbiosis of these elements with Kirk’s mysterious croon is a sound that would be menacing and cinematic, were it not so prone to putting a smile on your face. It’s the kind of music you can see being used in off-beat horror as creepy, but enigmatically character-filled texture before something horrible.

Hot Dreams balances the pastiche with the professional with unfailing class. Its veneer is never less than impeccably produced and performed, and it’s varied enough to keep the act going all album long. The brilliantly Johnny Cash-esque Grand Canyon is like a relic from a by-gone time, at once a fun assemblage of tropes and a sincere country effort. The mix of the surprisingly emotive, pained surges of strings dovetails with the classic sci-fi keyboard swell to communicate everything you need to know about Hot Dreams. If it wasn’t so fun it would still be brilliant as something serious.

You could argue it fades somewhat over the second half of the album, but the dip in quality is really pretty negligible. The Three Sisters is a slower, more atmospheric instrumental closer and leads to the album ending on something of a whimper rather than a bang, but it works nonetheless.

Bizarre, brilliant, strange, sincere, touching, hilarious. Hot Dreams is many things at once, but most of all it’s a remedy for the relentless gloom and self-absorption that characterises so much of the indie folk scene (see The War on Drugs). Maybe that disenchantment with the current malaise affecting so much music has inflated my rating, maybe Hot Dreams is just too much fun to turn down.

And it’s Canadian, too. Because of course it’s Canadian. It’s always Canadian.

Beat The Drum Slowly, Curtains?!, Bring Me Single Men

 A

Fear of Men//Loom

I like Fear of Men. I like that their albums are super short (last year’s Early Fragments was only 25 minutes and Loom is just under 40) and that there is a genuine sense of development to their music.  They’re still nothing particularly special and I still feel they’re not a band that I’d ever actually recommend to anyone, just because they’re so….god, I dunno…so ordinary. I’m not saying they’re bad – not by a long shot – but I wouldn’t say to someone “Hey, listen to this band Fear of Men, they’re completely run of the mill”. They’re one of those bands where they don’t actually do anything bad, they just don’t do anything amazing. So you’re left with nothing to actually criticise other than natural talent and inexperience, which feels a bit harsh.

All the same, Loom is a good album. It’s bigger, lusher and bolder than their debut (which isn’t saying much when it’s that short) but doesn’t become overwrought in the process. It’s still built on the fundamentals of a pretty voice, punchy drumming, guitar that harks back to mid-2000s indie(a bit of crunch but also quite melodic, think Funeral), and the occasional ornamentation from strings; and the band still know when to end a song, too – a vital attribute lacked by so many. Other than Inside, nothing goes over 5 minutes, with most hanging around the three minute mark.

What’s most markedly different is what they do with that time. Sure, there’s a sort of down-tempo intro to the album, but once it gets started it flies along with a pace and urgency lacking on their debut. The vocals are more layered without becoming messy, the drumming even more frenetic and the sense of time and momentum impeccable. The balance between instrumental and, erm, not, is delicately maintained throughout – perhaps best seen on album mid-point Tephra. Tephra also demonstrates with its conclusion the slightly rougher edge to a band that were slightly choral before, and in a sort of inoffensively dull way.

They sort of remind me of Owen Pallet on Loom. They have that same mix of frantic pace and quiet fragility, choir boy innocence and sinister undercurrent, and a grand, lush cinematic sound steeped in indie reference points. There’s also a running theme – something about water and waves and being carried away – but that’s sort of a thin comparison to Heartland’s whole weird ‘Kill Owen Pallett’ narrative.

One minor criticism is directed at the song Green Sea. All the other songs on Loom, right down to the title, are one word; Green Sea is two. It’s irritating.

B

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