Timber Timbre frontman Taylor Kirk checked into Heartbreak Hotel, and he never left. The more he discovered how haunted it really is, the more he liked it. On this, his fifth album, he still drenches his voice in rockabilly reverb and peers into every dark corner he can find, using blues, ’50s lounge crooner music, ’60s spaghetti Western soundtracks (you can almost hear the clip-clop of trotting horses on the opening track, “Beat the Drum Slowly) and sheets of spooky-ass noise of indecipherable origin. Organs wheeze, pianos grown, lecherous saxophones beckon, string sections weep and sing. All the while, as always, one can’t help but picture Harry Dean Stanton imbuing Roy Orbison songs with eternal dread in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet—especially when Kirk calls in female backing singers to sing what Kelly Hogan calls “Roddenberries” (vocals that sound like the Star Trek theme song) over a bolero beat. Doom is always either imminent or has already wreaked its havoc, leaving desolate survivors to wade through the wreckage.
Sound like a good time? No, of course not. But everyone loves a good creep: just ask the creators of The Walking Dead, or Breaking Bad; the latter has used Timber Timbre’s music in the past. Kirk runs the risk of camp, which he fell into far too often on his last album, where the lyrics tried too hard to create the sense of dread that the music did naturally. He’s more careful this time out, although there’s the occasional clunker—like when he opens a song by declaring, “I want to dance with a black woman.”
If Kirk’s songwriting is neither here nor there (there’s an odd melodic nod to “Rivers of Babylon” on the track “Grand Canyon”), he and his band continue to improve as arrangers: there’s a strong influence of dub reggae, psychedelia and RZA-style hip-hop production that leaves plenty of space for ghostly textures, and sets them far apart from other rootsy retro acts who think reverb and a Farfisa organ are convenient crutches to create mood. Guest performer (for the third album in a row now) Colin Stetson on saxophone is also a welcome presence.
Timber Timbre has a shtick, and Taylor Kirk is sticking to it. It’s not only working for him, but he keeps getting better at it.
As per the perplexing band name and album title, Where Do We Go From Here sounds like a confusing mess on the surface. It’s not. It’s actually one of the most refreshing and inventive Canadian rock records in a long while.
Bandleader Taylor Cochrane delivers ambitious and anthemic alt-rock, psychedelic textures, weirdo electro-pop, folkie detours and a three-part suite of ambient noise: the kind of mix tape or open-format radio show no one makes anymore. That all-out noise excursion aside, Cochrane writes great pop songs, and then throws everything he can at them to see if they survive. There’s no indication here what instruments Cochrane or his bandmates Eric Svilpis and Scott White handle individually; it’s safe to assume there are no slackers on board. Drummer Ryan Kusz gives it all muscle that prevents everything from drifting apart: in the middle of the eclectic experimentalism, this is a rock band. It also helps that Cochrane is no vocal slouch either: when he goes for those high notes that all emo boys attempt, Cochrane actually pulls it off. Nineties campus radio fans: imagine Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum joining Change of Heart circa Smile.
What’s next for this band? Apparently a plan to rerecord this album with household objects and acoustic instruments. Why would they do that? Like everything heard here: just because.