Having been stowed away in little cupboards since the release of their JUNO and Polaris-nommed fourth LP Creep On Creepin’ On, Canada’s foremost folk-blues ringmasters Timber Timbre have been achin’ to hit the road once more. Okay, so no-one’s actually kept them under lock and key, but they have been gone for nigh-on three years, touring with Laura Marling and Feist, as well as undertaking myriad other projects. For their fifth full-length, entitled Hot Dreams, they’ve hijacked a time machine and sprawled themselves out over the middle of the 20th century. It’s a deeply retro death-country record, injecting Southern Gothic hallmarks to create an immersive atmosphere that piques curiosity, but also summons hackles in swarms.
On some cuts, like “Grand Canyon”, the threesome lurk in ’50s Americana – they may be from the Great White North, but there’s a definite USA-ness. It’s something you’d find slurred, drooling from Johnny Cash’s ash-lined lips; all the axes are trembling with distortion and reverb, and the back-to-basics percussion ape a horse’s canter. There’s some anachronistic jazz sax and space-age synth towards the end, ripping you from the dusty desert ranches and cacti-strewn barren wastes, but the quality doesn’t waver. You’re still able to believe they’ve just dug this up just outside of Dodge. The title-track’s similar in tone: it slinks between Hawaiian slide-guitar exotica and doo-wop prom ballad. With tropical-Elvis baritone vocals and the chilled-out nostalgi-pop backing, it’s simple, sublime escapism (and a bit raunchy at points), steeped in the indicators of bygone decades.
There are moments of extravagant darkness too: “Resurrection Drive Part II” is the quintessential B-Movie OST. Part Scooby Doo and part pulpy ’70s horror-rock, it’s an eerie paean with plenty of campy-cum-spooky segments. It’s also home to some truly filthy saxophony. Psych-pop “Curtains!”, occasionally sounding like “The Monster Mash” with funky-ass basslines, is another schlocky, cigarillo-smog cut. It’s about as terrifying as The Addams Family, but the creepy intent is there. It’s the somewhat unnerving Southern Gothic-type of horror that relies on Das Unheimliche for the cheap, hair-raising thrills. Not exactly Paranormal Activity, more like a surrealist, ghost-train-on-a-budget kind of horror filmed in B&W. Timber Timbre are nothing if not extraordinary cinematic and atmospheric visionaries.
The entire record is a decrepit, cobweb-clogged anthology of past styles and vintage genres. They captivate from the off, luring you deep into this chintzy, shyster-riddled carnivale cavalcade. The Canadian bandit-trio croon lurid tales of lust, love and the occult with such genuine panache, you’ll often forget that this record was forged in the present day, as opposed to between the ’30s and late-’70s. Take “The Three Sisters”, which is the aural equivalent of skinny-dipping in a grotesque swamp, with the abundance of creaking organs, shimmering guitars and limping rhythms. If anything, ever, has embodied the term ‘sleazy’, then this is it.
They are impeccable at recreating the entire visual aspect too, interweaving a golden age of silver screen aesthetic into the mix, which conjures vivid visions with ease. Hot Dreams is simultaneously knee-trembling elegance and seedy underbelly; it sounds like spending a week in Las Vegas: pumped with narcotics, carcinogens, whiskey, strung-out lounge singers and run-down casinos. This is Bates Motel schmaltz, this is a cartoon version of Anton Chigurgh’s innermost thoughts – this is thoroughly disconcerting. The blues and folk they once churned out has morphed into doo-wop, rock’n’roll and coutnry-western; this is in no way a bad thing. Timber Timbre, in crafting Hot Dreams, have cultivated an immensely strong record and an alternate sonic dimension you can spend a lifetime exploring.