What started as an ambient horror film soundtrack took on a life of its own as Last Ex.
Canadian noir folk group Timber Timbre is the deviant cousin of Bill Callahan’s already plenty skewed Smog: there to keep the too-earnest party honest, lingering outside at the edge of the porch light, starting conversations with questions like “what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” With its origins rooted in a band that named one of its album’s Creep on Creepin’ On, the story behind the instrumental duo Last Ex sounds about right. In 2012, Timber Timbre created ambient music to soundtrack a horror movie from which its name is taken. When the project failed to come together, two of the members, guitarist Simon Trottier and drummer/keyboardist Olivier Fairfield, went back to the material they had laid down, and began to add percussion and instrumentation. Over time, Trottier and Fairfield began to write new songs in addition to building up what was already there, and the finishing touches were put on Last Ex earlier this year.
Timber Timbre may not have seen its horror soundtrack come to fruition, but the videos that accompany its songs can be plenty disturbing in their own right. The video for “Demon Host” starts with the camera fixated alone on leader Taylor Kirk, until it slowly pulls back and turns around, first revealing that he’s in a barn, and then that a man cloaked like the Grim Reaper is standing in the doorway. “Black Water” is even more likely to give you nightmares, made to look like grainy underwater footage of deep sea divers clinging to life after the glass of their helmets have been shattered. Mercifully, a phalanx of glowing cephalopods does eventually come to their rescue.
The promotional video that Last Ex has to offer carries much less narrative, but retains a similar sense of playful perversion. The visual companion to “Girl Seizure” is a rapid succession of surrealist pencil animations, many of which involve human heads severing from their bodies and dissolving into the ether. Sometimes the figures reform, other times they continue to morph as landscapes undulate and burst apart. If nothing else, as a representation of the fluidity of the music on Last Ex (apparently some time was spent determining the most suitable track sequence), it works.
Independent from its original intent, it is safe to say that Last Ex is better served by not being chained to any particular movie, though surely it would have made for fine aural accompaniment to whatever discomfiting suspense and atrocious acts were going to be perpetuated in that feature. Last Ex is a record far richer than the tag "horror soundtrack" brings to mind, as such scores usually hinge on one or maybe a few basic motifs that recur at high points of shock to drill the point home, with much of the rest relegated to ambient afterthought. Here instead, Trottier and Fairfield use tape and collage techniques, vintage radio sounds and effects, and a light palette of rattling drums and eerie warped strings that occasionally recall the quieter passages of early Godspeed You! Black Emperor records.
Timber Timbre may be at home on the Arts & Crafts roster, but Last Ex found its appropriate home on Constellation, where it shares certain atmospheric qualities not just with its aforementioned flagship group but also with one of the label’s earliest releases. Exhaust’s self-titled debut was CST004, coming out in 1998 on the heels of the first two Sofa releases and the first GYBE album. Not many records before or since could claim to sound just like it. Powered by one time GYBE drummer Aidan Girt, Exhaust leaned on the low end of its bass, drum, and tape trio configuration, where Last Ex gives equal space to a nuanced sense of melody. Both, however, have a sound and energy that is at once present yet distanced by both time and space, as if our own radio signals were bounced back to Earth from the far arms of the solar system. Come to think of it, Last Ex would fit with a space odyssey just as well.