Monday, January 5, 2009
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Right now, almost everyone in the blog world is freaking out over the new Animal Collective record leaking and Bruce Peninsula's decision to offer up the download of their debut months earlier than expected. Normally, I'd be marching right in stride (well, for the Bruce Peninsula LP at least), but a couple of things are stopping me.
I'm anxious to start absorbing new BP material, but really want to experience the record in it's proper form - as a tangible piece of art, complete with artwork and liner notes - but more importantly, right now there is another release dominating my listening schedule and trying hard to be earn a spot as the first "must-have" record of 2009.
If you are familiar with Timber Timbre, you already know the impact Taylor Kirk’s songs deliver. Even on a passing listen to Medicinals, the way Kirk was able to transform his acoustic bedroom recordings into ghostly tales that resonated the spirit and imagery of the Deep South blues was remarkable. His spare arrangements left notes and words lingering in the shadows, openly exposed to the listener, but he was able to add bursts of horns and execute tempo changes that hid the fragility of the songs at just the right moments. Basically he was the type of artist that could be playing alone in a bar and stop you dead in your tracks.
So, to be honest, the change in sound he delivers on the new self-titled release was quite unexpected. Kirk still has the charisma to tell a compelling stories using little more than the muted, steady strums of his guitar, but the textures he adds accentuate the ominous tones of the record and really complete his songs. Organ, piano, percussion and beautiful string arrangements all add a density to Kirk’s compositions and fill some of the space once reserved for echoes and creaks. You can’t help but be surprised by the surging energy from the piano and choral vocals that complete the album opener, Demon Host. Instead of straining to hear the squeaks of fingers along the fret board that supports his freak folk vocals, you are excited, unsure of what might come next.
And what comes next is a perfect display of Kirk's new sound. Starting with a simple, banged out synth/piano line and subtle tambourine shake, Lay Down In The Tall Grass quickly becomes so much more than the sum of their parts. The minimal composition seems dark and desolate and provides a perfect canvas for Kirk to tell the tale of an insecure lover. As he confesses, “dreamin’ every night of you, shakin’ at the sight of you” he contrasts the coldness of the melody and adds guitar work and accompanying textures (layers that are used repeatedly over the course of the next seven songs) that pile emotion onto the track and shock the listener.
His warbled voice is backed by chimes and organ on the eerie Until The Night Is Over, but he executes the bolder arrangement nicely. Kirk knows when to strip away the sounds for impact and when to bolster the energy with crescendos and soft double tracked vocals. Even as he revisits the ideals of the blues by alternating guitar lines and vocals on Magic Arrow, it’s the kick drum that pounds over the rapid fire beat of and into your chest that paves the way for the guitar notes and synth static float around the vastness behind and resonate in your soul.
The larger arrangements Kirk favors alsogive the record more soul. The deep drum sounds and piano that work with the echoing synth give a more human feel to I Get Low, and as he admits that he “gets low, low, low on my own” you feel a sadness he kept inside on previous releases. The strings that lengthen each statement on Trouble Comes Knocking haunt the song, but the gentle piano that surfaces before the chorus softens the tension and as the synths and strings dance around for the last two minutes of the track, you find yourself being swept away in an inspired melody, forgetting the tension he built so well in the first half of the song.
People say the devil is in the details, and obviously Kirk has thought out each and every track. He controls to mood, pace and arrangements – case in point: the surprising choir and string arrangement that transforms the quick hitting two-minute Well Find Out - with a deft touch and displays his growth as an artist. This isn’t the Timber Timbre I first discovered a few years ago, but it’s one that I am happy to continue to grow with. It's also a record that is going to turn heads and will most likely be one making a lot of lists this time next year.