It may be their fourth album, but the new album from these newly expanded Canadian backwoods mystics sure feels like a victim of the sophomore slump.
Can we finally officially consign short, 'atmospheric' instrumentals to the same bin we toss skits from rap albums in? There's usually some novelty value to both the first few times, and every so often there's an exception that proves the rule, but generally they don't work. They don't work on their own, and they don't even really work in the context of the albums they come from. In the 'old days,' we'd hit the skip button. These days, we just don't put them on our iPods. In some ways, the instrumental interlude is sadder than the rap skit. The latter are usually either goofs or boasting, but the former tends to register as a statement from the artist that the album in question is a Serious Artistic Statement, Intended To Be Taken As a Whole. But just like the skits, taking them out entirely improves the experience.
Those interludes are even harder to take when an artist like Timber Timbre resorts to them. Taylor Kirk didn't need the help when Timber Timbre was still a solo concern, and his songs haven't lost any of their melancholic/malevolent power with the addition of Mika Posen and Simon Trottier. While part of Timber Timbre's effectiveness has always been down to Kirk's Screamin' Jay Hawkins meets Ian Curtis voice and cryptic, elemental lyrics, Timber Timbre's transformation into a fully-fleshed band has added extra weight and space to the songs. Kirk was always capable of sounding like a backwoods demon/preacher, but on Creep on Creepin' On he sounds a lot less like a lone voice in the wilderness.
As a result, the best songs here are among Timber Timbre's strongest. Opener "Bad Ritual" manages to distill the band's sound perfectly in three minutes that also double as the closest thing they've ever had to a killer single. There's no better summation of the tone of Kirk's vocals and lyrics than the chorus' "oh, oh, it's a bad, bad ritual / but it calms me down", and the combination of anguish and relief in his voice. "Bad Ritual" isn't exactly pop, but it's a hell of a lot closer than Timber Timbre normally get, and a salutary reminder that at pop is a broader church than we tend to give it credit for. Meanwhile, "Black Water" starts off with the repeated refrain/plea "all I need is some sunshine" and the occasional saxophone bleat, then slowly builds to woozy rounds of the titular phrase. It's not a million miles away from some of Kirk's past work, but the move from the forest to the swamp suits him just fine.
While the lesser songs on Timber Timbre got by on understated menace, pitch-perfect sequencing, and that record's absurdly high quality control, the likes of the dully doomy "Woman" and the overly halting "Do I Have Power" here make too much of the album drag. That drag is only multiplied when you almost double the songs' length with the pointless instrumentals around them. The best material on Creep on Creepin' On suggests that Kirk and co.'s methods are sturdy enough to sustain them; the rest of it adds the caveat that there's got to be some function with that form.
Ultimately, even the good stuff here doesn't quite measure up to the barreling ghost train power of "Magic Arrow" or the desolate beauty of "Demon Host". Timber Timbre wasn't the band's debut, but it was the first real exposure the wider world had to Kirk's music. However ahistorical, Creep on Creepin' On sure feels like an example of sophomore slump, although hopefully one that the band can learn from.