“I like evil sounding music-I’ve tried writing happier, more positive songs and they all suck.”
So says Taylor Kirk, the man behind Timber Timbre. Well, it’s good to know one’s strengths and weaknesses I suppose. Luckily Kirk is clearly aware where his strengths lie on this eerie and haunted self titled album. Over the last few years Kirk has built a name for himself with his two previous records and stints supporting the great and the good of the Toronto scene. Having originally released this record on Out Of This Spark Records in January, it was picked up by Canadian uber-indie label Arts and Crafts to ensure a wider, and indeed, worldwide release. His self titled record builds on the same basic formula as Cedar Shakes and Medicinals, Kirk’s haunting, hushed vocals accompanied by subtle guitar parts and understated percussion, occasionally augmented by harmonica.
That is not to say Timber Timbre is business as usual however. Far from it. Rather than being a one man, bedroom effort like his previous releases, for this record Kirk went into the studio with Chris Stringer, who has been behind the desk for the likes of Ohbijou and, er…Rush amongst others. The result is a move away from the lo-fi to a more polished and cinematic sound. Kirk was also able to call on friends from within the Toronto community to contribute to the record: Forest City Lovers’ Mika Posen contributes the strings that, at times, make the record, while various members of Bruce Peninsula appear on backing vocals on ‘I Get Low’ and ‘We’ll Find Out’.
Despite these additions, Timber Timbre is still a record that feels sparse and spacious- there is as much said by what is not being played as what is, Kirk harnessing the silences and creaks to sinister effect. Rather than using a quiet/ loud dynamic to make an impact, he employs dark or violent imagery- images of people lying in wait for errent lovers with bits of rope or being dug from a shallow grave with a Swiss Army knife for example. Lyrically these are tales of love lust and violence played out in the shadows and the outhouses. Drenched in reverb and with shreiking and sinister string wails, it’s a trippy take on country-blues noir.
‘Until The Night Is Over’ is built on a violin drone and a ghoulish psych guitar line, which finally gives away to an echoing organ and shrill autoharp, while screams and whoops echo in the backgound. Yet, the chorus brings a hint of positivity and a break from the minor key and negativity “It’s a hundred thousand miles off/ Coming closer every day”. On this vocal especially, it is easy to see why some have compared Kirk’s hushed croon to the likes of early M.Ward or Devendra Banhart. Unlike the freak-folk kingpin however, Kirk does not allow his personality or persona to dominate the music. Rather he lets his music have free reign to speak for itself. The scraping strings, hushed vocals and fairground organs lend an eerie quality to Timber Timbre, something that Kirk plays along with lyrically throughout. On album closer ‘No Bold Villan’, he sings “ I was a spook for you/another ghoul“, and the plaintive finger picking and mournful violin, coupled with scrapings and knocking in the lo fi recording suggest something is not well in the wheatfields of Northern Ontario. It’s a timeless blues, and has the feel of a field recording that could have been made at any time in the last eighty years.
By moving out of his bedroom and solitude, and embracing collaboration, Timber Timbre have managed to retain their refreshingly restrained approach and produce a quietly assured and enthralling record that improves with every listen.