Tim Exile: Listening Tree

Tim Exile
Listening Tree

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed with the third long-player from Tim Exile. Known casually as Timothy Shaw, the man launched his career by making sick drum and bass on the legendary Moving Shadow and John B’s Beta. His style quickly evolved to include more of a hardcore IDM influence, as shown by his awe-inspiring 2005 debut album on Planet Mu. Released only under the name of Exile, Pro Agonist remains one of the all-time greatest of its kind.

Tim Exile’s Noissance Gabbaret Lounge followed in 2006 with a bizarre take on live improvisation, the kind that Jamie Lidell is still prone to perform at points in his amazingly authentic funk/soul sets. It was like a stand-up comedy routine from hell, literally. Most, if not all of its track listing consisted of reconstituted vocals diced up over a few glitch and drum patches into face shredding drill and bass form. Granted, the record is a bit much to get through in a single sitting (even the crowd allegedly subjected to this noise and Tim’s legitimately humorous ramblings got a day long break half way through), but the results were undeniably impressive. His raw talent was all there on display, like it or not.

Sadly, that talent is obscured for much of his third full-length. To its credit, Listening Tree does feature beautiful, intricate electronic instrumentals. They are masterfully produced and make the notion of reinventing genres seem as easy as finding the g-spot. The problem is they are choked to death with enough poncey vocals to make Bono look shy and humble. The music barely gets the room to breathe most of the time, requiring serious effort on behalf of the listener merely to appreciate how brilliant it is.

Underworld pulled off the rantronic thing, but that’s not what Tim is going for. Listening Tree is in Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys territory, and Exile does not have the pipes to pull it off. Gabbaret Lounge would not have worked nearly as well if Tim tried singing on it. There, he stuck to his strong suits of glitch and wry observation. All the insane effects and tweaks he puts on his Listening Tree vocals can’t hide the fact he does not have a very good voice. It sounds flat and bored, though his lyrics are quite solid. He deals with themes of social inequity, credit card debt culture, and spiritual responsibility, and he’s not dumbing anything down. The sad thing is, the vocals are so close to being cool. He has good ideas melodically and his lyrics are usually insightful and intelligent. If someone else sang, “Don’t think we’re all one, don’t fool yourself / My boat is sinking, so save yourself / Don’t follow me”, I bet it would work famously.

For these reasons, “There’s Nothing Left Of Me But Her And This” and “When Every Day’s A Number” rank as the clear highlights. The former is a breathtaking, slick, electro hip-hop number that stalls and stutters ever so exactly so as to get the human body aroused in all the right places, clearly benefiting from the fact the only voice on the track is breathy and mauled like “Windowlicker” (Aphex Twin). “When Every Day’s A Number” is a more abstract, ambient number with moments of glitchy, industrial drum and bass on the level of DJ Hidden or Evol Intent. Those two cuts are the business.

Everything else is a test of your patience. At best, Tim’s voice is occasionally ignorable. Cuts like “Pay Tomorrow” and the title track (which features more unnaturally pitched “Windowlicker” vocal tweaks) almost get over the hump into respectability. However, when a lyrical cut almost works, it is a result of the singing not getting in the way of the instrumental, and not the singing actually enhancing the worth of the music.

Despite the obvious flaws of this record, I strongly believe Tim Exile is one of the most talented artists in electronic music today. At the very least, I urge you to give him the respect he deserves and judge this record in the context of his body of work. Pro Agonist is as good or better today as it was four years ago, and Gabbaret Lounge is worth the effort of investigation. In any case, it will not be the last you have heard of Exile.

RATING 5 / 10