Great pieces of instrumental music often start out as shunned filmed scores; Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”, originally penned for a ‘violent sequence’ in the 1970 film Zabriskie Point was deemed too similar to “church music” for director Michelangelo Antonioni. And that’s kind of the happy accident story here for Last Ex, the new instrumental project made up predominately by Simon Trottier and Oliver Fairfield of Timber Timbre fame. The Last Exorcism Part II’s loss however is our gain, as we’re treated to a collection of new, and for want of a better term, ‘rejected’ songs from those sessions.
Opener "Hotel Blues" shifts gears quickly from a very minimal and sparse fumble to an eerie, arpeggiated keyboard sequence, the tone and feel of which takes me rather obscurely back to a song off an old Doom soundtrack, "Sweet Little Dead Bunny" to be specific (not quite as MIDI though). Things come to a climax with an equally Doom-like influx of spurring strings, giving the sense of a possible linear narrative and ultimately alluding to its original purpose.
Dropping their self-titled debut just several months after the greatly acclaimed Hot Dreams does go some way to cushioning the impact of the unabashedly testing sounds found on this record – the most glaring similarity between the two being the track "Resurrection Drive". Ditching chronological conventions and bringing relief to Hot Dreams enthusiasts, Last Ex features Pt.I – relatively speaking, a slightly mellower and less creepy version of its sibling.
The guitar tones are grainy throughout, particularly on the eccentric ‘Flute Magique’ and ‘Trop Tard’ which has that otherworldly Boards Of Canada ‘Chromakey Dreamcoat’ sound. It’s all very dissonant sonically, propelled along by simple, repetitive bass lines and old-school studio manipulation. The duo’s obsession with music concrète and the influence of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop bleeds through on this record, reducing the attack of natural notes and allowing them to decay and create these vast atmospheric layers, all of which was done much more primitively and naively back in the 60’s and 70’s of course. These pulsing rhythmical influences and tape wizardry skills have also been cited by artists such as Aphex Twin and to some extent, Norfolk’s second maddest man, Mike Oldfield.
Timber Timbre’s association with David Lynch (think Mulholland Dr. Soundtrack) is again warranted with this release. The strings on Last Ex float in a classical, noir sort of way – best heard on "Neil’s Theme" which also sees some seldom-used acoustic guitar; although still a little jarring, there is a sense of warmth and a more contemplative mood overall.
Don’t forgive these moments of restraint for thinking that this is a mildly accessible listen; this was penned for a horror film after all. "It’s Not Chris" has plenty of scare-credentials with its jaunty and affected chords, then there’s the bizarre and frantic "Girl Seizure" with what could conceivably be a distressed bumble bee on some sort of loop for the duration of the track.
Off the back of the short and rather ominous "Cape Fear" we have "Cite d’or" which has quite an experimental, almost alt-rock type groove with low bass wobbles creating ground for more abrasive and distorted garnish. The percussion on this record is fascinating and taken alone can conjure thoughts of anything from Radiohead to Bill Ward, when he was in his jazzier, free-form mood, especially on a number like "Hotel Blues Returns".
Given the occasionally solemn and bleak nature of Timber Timbre’s own releases, Last Ex comes as something of a richly textured, instrumental treat. Despite the unconventional intentions behind a lot of these pieces, there’s no foolish gimmickry about their production or execution, it’s all rather wonderfully meshed together, and culminating in a surprisingly cohesive album out of what is a constantly changing landscape of intensity and drama.