[9 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Success can be bred out of failure, something that the Toronto, Canada, band Timber Timbre knows all too well. In 2013, founder and leader Taylor Kirk was tapped to score music for the horror film The Last Exorcism Part II. While a Timber Timbre song plays over the credits sequence, due to a host of unfortunate circumstances, the score Kirk wrote was rejected. Perhaps this was a good thing, considering the film has a ranking of only 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 35 percent on Metacritic, and a user score of 3.9 out of 10 on IMDB. Still, the ghost of horror movies plays throughout the course of the band’s new and fifth album, Hot Dreams. It’s a horrific listen, one seemingly borne out of Kirk’s film soundtrack work, and it sounds a lot like the bastard child that would be born between David Lynch and Ennio Morricone’s work with Spaghetti Westerns. It’s ironic that I just watched Django Unchained prior to writing this review; some of the songs here might have nestled quite nicely on that film’s soundtrack. So if anything can be said about Hot Dreams, with its grand panoramas and nods to classic soul and lounge music sounds as well, it’s that it is a singularly constructed record that feels like a wholly unified statement of intent. Coming on the heels of 2011’s Polaris Prize-shortlisted Creep on Creepin’ On, Hot Dreams feels as richly textured as a fine oil painting, and is undoubtedly a work of art.
And nothing sounds more horrifying than the album’s opening track, “Beat the Drum Slowly”. Sounding a little like a holdover from a Flaming Lips song, this is a dirge that may make the hairs stand on the back of your neck, particularly when the instrumental breaks of the song kick in with their Gothic overtones. It’s an unsettling start to the proceedings. Kirk even sounds like a morose Leonard Cohen here, adding to the effect. The title track, which follows, nudges more swiftly into jazz and R&B territory, with its shrieking saxophones and the album’s most memorable line for its unexpectedness: “I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance / With a black woman.” It’s a soft and feathery song, but it doesn’t set one up for the queasy left turn into 1960s psychedelia meets ‘70s Krautrock territory of “Curtains?!”, clearly the standout track on the record. With lyrics penned with Simone Schmidt (Fiver, One Hundred Dollars, the Highest Order), the song is haunting and urgent. It sounds a little like Goblin in some respects, and is punctuated with a singular organ line creaking over the verses. Meanwhile, “Bring Me Simple Men” is the most overtly Tarantino inspired song on the collection, sounding like a Nancy Sinatra song mixed in with something from the Morricone songbook.
Instrumental “Resurrection Drive Part II”—Part I seems to have destined for The Last Exorcism Part II soundtrack—pulsates with meaningful dread, and, while ultimately rockist in scope, might cause you to have nightmares should you listen to this before heading off to bed. “The Grand Canyon”, another song that could be a soundtrack to a Western, sees Kirk pulling off his most Johnny Cash-esque voice. “This Low Commotion” swoops and swings with cascading violin lines, before turning into something that Tindersticks might have conjured up; Kirk here sounds remotely like Stuart Staples, which is apt considering that Staples has contributed to film music scores. “The New Tomorrow”, on the other hand, comes across as a mildly psychedelic take on a Slim Twig track. And then the album closes on two ballads, “Run from Me”, played on the piano, and instrumental “The Three Sisters”, which sounds a lot like Lynch crossed with Steely Dan. These happen to be the least affecting songs on the LP, which is not to say that they’re bad, but they lack the stickiness of some of the other material to be had on the record.
Still, overall Hot Dreams is a record that is epic in scope and feels cohesive as a whole. It offers interesting twists and turns, and works well as an artistic statement of commanding respect. It’s beautifully haunting and twangy in equal measure, and it has broad brushstrokes of cinematic abandon. While it is said that Hot Dreams lacks the standout tracks of previous works in multiple reviews across the Web, it is still an album that plays very much like an album with multiple threads of horror, longing, and dread running throughout its runtime. While this is a record that may get shortlisted for the Polaris—though I would suspect that Timber Timbre will probably lose again to the band that beat them in 2011, Arcade Fire—it is clearly the product of a vision that is focused and astonishing.
Hot Dreams is not only just music, it is the sort of thing that you would expect to find hanging in a gallery or playing over some delightful scarefest. If this is the result of not getting one’s way in terms of getting one’s work onto film, I can enthusiastically say that I would hope that Kirk and his band keep on failing on that regard. Out of the disappointing ashes of rejection, Timber Timbre have delivered one of 2014’s most potent and invigorating Canadian albums of the year, and I would dearly hope that they can still solider on with this kind of bent, despite the fact that the band didn’t get what they wanted for what they set out to do. Hollywood may be fleeting, but Hot Dreams is a filmic record that moves from strength to strength to strength in the most entertaining of ways. This is undoubtedly a true gem.