taylor kirk's mysterious timbre
    • MONDAY, JANUARY 04, 2010

    • Posted by: David Pitz

    Copper colored crops rust in the death heat of a relentless, summer horror. A light mist rises from the face of the once, good earth...its' fog like the smoking remains of something that once was, but never shall be. It's a depression...a dust bowl; people's lives have all dried up, and there they sit on the knife's edge waiting for a new beginning, an end, or whatever shall be.

    These are the images that envelop the mind...the kind of twisted scene setting usually evoked from the pages of John Steinbeck, or perhaps from the flicker of the latest Cormac MacCarthy adaptation. But here it's music - dark, moody, and shambolic music - courtesy of a Canadian bluesman dubbed Timber Timbre. Sure, he could have called himself Taylor Kirk. His parents already did. But a listen to his latest, untitled affair - out now on Arts and Crafts - suggests Kirk favors mystery when he takes to his guitar. It seeps from every pore of his album's deep, macabre compositions.

    The roots of Timber Timbre dig in to a somewhat familiar sounding back-story. Similar to the circumstances that spawned Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, Kirk's recording career began somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. "A few years ago I experienced something that might be described as a breakdown," explains Kirk, "retreating to a cabin in the woods to help work for some family friends. I ended up spending my nights recording a collection of songs called Timber Timbre, Cedar Shakes."

    Those songs - described by Kirk as much more earnest and not in a good way - would help transform Kirk from a self-assessed auxiliary man - a drummer making the rounds of the Toronto scene - into the front and center songwriter he is today. Over two albums ('06's Cedar Shakes and '07's Medicinals) he would polish his nostalgic, home recording aesthetic, eventually settling into a proper studio for production of his latest album. It would be a move made out of necessity. "I kind of felt I had reached my limits making recordings on my own," explains Kirk. "I was interested in making something that wasn't going to alienate certain people because of the lo-fi production values."

    The result of those sessions is a spooky collection of eight songs that sound rich, profound, and decidedly cinematic in their minimal makeup. Opener "Demon Host" is delicate, yet undeniably graceful, introducing listeners to some of the haunting elements that characterize the album; steady acoustic guitar, haunting vocals, and a variety of other musical nuisances that provide a spine-chilling sense of depth. On "We'll Find Out", antiquated swells of violin snake their way through the mix. And "Lay Down In The Tall Grass" is an eerie sort of soul song, riding the pulse of a steady kick drum... an element Kirk admits is of supreme importance. "There is a lot of dissonance in what we're doing. But everyone can understand this four-on-the-floor kick. It's the heartbeat."

    Perhaps another aspect at the heart of Timber Timbre are the strains of inspiration that swaddle it. "The untitled recording was in many ways an album about music. It is very nostalgic in that I was attempting to recreate the feel of certain songs I was listening to at a formative age, and hadn't spent time with since. Artists like Roy Orbison, Lightnin' Hopkins, the Everly Brothers, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen...House of the Rising Sun is maybe the first song I ever learned to play. I think the essence of that song appears in each track on the album, sometimes quite deliberately." So deliberate, in fact, that "Until The Night Is Over" begins with the line, "There is a house in New Orleans...".

    Such an explanation helps to explain some of the mystifying undercurrents that ripple through the untitled release. Most of Kirk's musical touchstones are artists of an older ilk, and a more enigmatic one at that. To Orbison, Hopkins, Simone, and Cohen, absolute definition was never a reality. Instead, their public portraits and perceptions - despite their looming influence or obvious iconic status - remain somewhat dimly lit, even to this day, even in the face of widespread popularity.

    Which is why Timber Timbre's breakthrough album packs so much potential to push Kirk onto another plane. It's a brilliant listen, but one that lacks an absolute clarity as to why that is. So the mind traces as it plays through, with vivid mental scenes (such as the one that lead this article) taking shape with the stroke of the listener's imagination. In this, the age of super technology and infinite information, maintaining such a sense of mystery is a very clever feat indeed.

    Will Kirk be able to keep it up as he navigates today's musical terrain? Will he one day vanish into history with the greats, having made a veiled and transcendental mark on the musical world? It's a bit too early to tell. What's clear, however, is that the singer songwriter teeters on a brilliant brink (success, recognition, etc) of sorts, waiting for a new beginning, an end, or whatever shall be. - David Pitz

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    MP3: Timber Timbre - "Demon Host"
    Timber Timbre on Myspace

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