Review ·

You know those songs, the type that suck the air out of the room, making you lean closer to the stereo, as if that will make you understand them any better. Songwriters are lucky to write one of those in their career, but Toronto’s Taylor Kirk (a.k.a. Timber Timbre) has crafted a stunning album with several hit-you-in-the-gut musical moments.

The formula is deceptively simple: Kirk takes his favorite elements of American folk, blues, and soul, strips them down to their rhythmic cores, and holds it all together with his creaky tenor. Nowhere is this more effective than on album standout (and possibly one of the songs of the year) “Lay Down In The Tall Grass,” a veritable perfect storm of quiet intensity. Sounding like he’s perched on the edge of sanity, Kirk slowly unravels an obsessive’s love story while plinking keyboard, organ stabs, muted bass, and tremulous strings bubble underneath his wild-eyed crooning. And then the bottom falls out, leaving his voice alone among the tape hiss and adding some warmth to the frigid atmosphere.
“Tall Grass” is an unblinking gem on a record full of captivating, death-obsessed songs. Acoustic guitar and a lilting melody are all Kirk needs to fully sell the morality tale of “Demon Host,” an ambivalent folk tune that somehow builds to a dynamic peak without getting louder or even adding much extra instrumentation. Elsewhere, he’s content with stretching out an extremely minimal surf riff into a mini-epic with his reverb-heavy voice leading the way (“Magic Arrow”). Later tracks like “Trouble Comes Knocking” find the macabre themes starting to seep into the music itself. Eerie dissonance, courtesy of clashing harmonica and violin bleats, rides a plodding beat on the Frankenstein-like “Trouble,” the combination of bluesy menace and smoky soul creating an uneasy concoction that Kirk appears to enjoy.
Past efforts found Timber Timbre as a solitary, lo-fi folk vehicle, but Kirk recruited some friends to flesh out this, his third album. Better recording fidelity and more bodies in the room don’t diminish the returns. Rather, he uses his new tools sparingly to create a record that burns with an unrelenting passion. Like those old American recordings he obviously loves, Kirk taps into a bygone weirdness that is equally unsettling and exciting.

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