Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 6th April 2011 at 9:04pm
I'm not sure whether music has a way of finding its way to me at the right time, or whether I'm just unconsciously adapting to what I'm hearing - but this record landed on just the day it needed to for me. So, defeated and wondering quite why I bother trying to make any sense out of what happens in the world around me, I press play for the first time on Creep On Creepin' On. My initial thoughts were uncharitable - that it's a strangely bad title for starters, and the cover frankly unsettled me in it's weirdness - but I put this down to the ridiculous funk I'd found myself sinking into. Because from the first reverb-drenched note this is a dark delight of an album.
Timber Timbre's previous self-titled effort was initially recommended to me as 'folk music' - likely based on the previous couple of largely solo efforts - and while there is no doubt that Taylor Kirk's quieter and more traditional moments provide some of that records highlights, there's much more happening in Timber Timbre's world, in part on the back of the presence of Mika Posen and Simon Trottier as permanent band members. On this release the dizzying variety of styles and instruments gets free rein. However, despite the vast pallette available with the inclusion of wailing strings, punches of carnival organ and the trademark clipped and percussive piano, this album achieves the curious distinction of almost sounding less than the sum of it's parts. Never overblown, the sound is spare and fragile. The production bone dry, drums splintering and scratching while Kirk's voice echoes up from a freshly dug grave. The atmosphere provides the space for these songs to reverberate disconcertingly, with the continually reoccurring supernatural references given a forbidding tone by the strangely woozy, anachronistic and off-kilter music.
Opening track "Bad Ritual" begins with an odd staccato march as Kirk croons his way through a catalogue of superstitions and diversionary activities. The chorus arrives, ushered in on a surprisingly light swoon of strings while a baritone choir backs up the whole affair. As the songs builds to a climax, distant handclaps explode and echo around the song. This is strange music - there's a sense of the Deep South, mystery and black magic at work. Sliding in on the back of a splash of Hawaiian guitar. the record reaches surprisingly sunny climes in title track "Creep On Creepin' On", an organ driven swing adressed to "your dickless cousin/brother/father/pet/friend" with Kirk not for the first time coming on like a real 1950s rock'n'roll star. Again spiritualism, dark arts and redemption aren't far from the black heart of these songs, with levitating beds and ectoplasm all making their way into this ridiculously enjoyable song which could as easily be leaking through the tinny speakers of a mono radio in an empty diner for all it's pretence at modernity. The song ends with a deftly executed saxophone solo - now this can be a deal-breaker for me, and a badly judged sax intrusion can ruin whole records for me. However, Timber Timbre drop this in pretty much perfectly.
It's important to mention though that by no means is this an issue of style over content - while a huge amount of effort has been put into recording and producing a record with a conscious sense of landscape and a distinct atmosphere, Kirk's barbed lyrical twists are as important at the music here. The epic "Black Water" begs for release from the pervasive, dank gloom of the swamps and "...a thousand white fish floating belly-up" with a plaintive cry of "all I need is some sunshine..." as violins grate on a single note and a lonely trumpet takes the song to it's conclusion. Timber Timbre's Canadian origins seem miles away as the song shudders and howls through the swamps and everglades, the piano marking time insistently. But for my money, the record hinges on the superb "Too Old To Die Young" where Kirk insists he's "giving it all it up" over a driving beat. The song twists peculiarly about its axis however, and it reaches a climax with swooning strings backing Kirk's strange reincarnation of Elvis Presley, his half-spoken reiteration of his intention to quit backed by a choir of shrill-voiced backing angels - which might just be the band with voices played back at double speed in fact. This surprisingly effective vocal delivery resurfaces on the giddy southern waltz of "Woman", which could so easily be a lost rock'n'roll 45 from your dad's old collection, save for the blaring and discordant horns and spacey twangs of guitar which bookend the song.
The songs are punctuated by three odd, discordant instrumental pieces "Souvenirs", "Swamp Magic" and "Obelisk", the later perhaps a reference to the strange object which adorns the cover. Every bit the companion piece to the weird atmosphere created by the music, the cover is baleful and disquieting - almost Pagan perhaps. These instrumentals don't work so well for me - they're not poor in themselves, but they distract the otherwise impeccable flow of the album. However, even here there are high points, and the closing moments of "Souvenirs" with it's thunderous drums and screeching strings closes the album on a mysterious and epic note.
There's no doubt that this release is going to expose the band to a much wider audience than previously, and naturally I don't begrudge Timber Timbre excellent press - they've worked for it and deserve every word of praise. However, there is a risk that a band like this could end up pigeonholed by the Mojo Magazine reading brigade as some sort of authentic new Americana, and given the obligatory "five star review". It happened to the likes of Lambchop years back as they ploughed a not dissimilar furrow, and there are a host of other artists who veer dangerously close to being adopted as the darlings of that strange and bland movement. It's important to remember - and in my view impossible to forget that at the heart of this record is some absurdly good, timelessly crafted pop music. That it is delivered dripping with sarcasm, oozing with malevolence and via the medium of really fine musicianship only cements the important part this should play in everyone's record collection. However, listen to it and buy it because you think it sounds great - and you will I'm sure - not because someone somewhere is going to give it five stars. And perhaps I was uncharitable about the title too, as this slinking, crawling creature of the swamps will suck you under before you know what's happening.
Timber Timbre - Too Old to Die Young
Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 29th March 2011 at 7:03am
Regular readers of this blog - should such creatures exist - will remember that I stumbled across Lonely Tourist as a support act at a recent Bristol show. Despite his assurance that we could get the album free online, I paid real cash to the man himself for a CD that night. It was as much a show of allegiance as a purchase - accosting the poor chap seconds after he left the stage and gruffly demanding one of his CDs. He was of course more than happy to oblige me, and perhaps more encouragingly the steady stream of people which followed.
And it's perhaps fitting I purchased this record on the sticky floor of The Cooler rather than slumped in front of the computer here in relative comfort, as much of this record focuses on the trials and tribulations of a gigging musician trying to quietly carve a niche in a bloated market. From the outset, Lonely Tourist squarely marks his lyrical territory on "Patron Saint Procrastinate" - a stirring, uplifting melody which carries a defeated but defiant vocal detailing just how little he's done that day, but how much is planned for tomorrow. We've all been there - and this very blog is nothing if not testament to the very same patron saint. As swells of organ join mid-song, Lonely Tourist's half-spoken vocals soar and the song becomes an anthem in celebration of procrastination. It's hard not to sing along, proud of our own non-achievements.
This is followed swiftly by "Watch For The Sharks", which leans more towards the live Lonely Tourist sound - a deftly strummed guitar weaving around a lyric which describes the on-the-road experiences of a musician trying to make it against the odds. This recurring theme doesn't get tired because we're all secretly voyeuristic about what happens when the musician leaves the stage - perhaps exactly why the whole 'X Factor' phenomenon is so inexplicably popular. Lonely Tourist's take on musicianship is wry, amusing and perhaps a little downtrodden, reminding me somewhat of James Yorkston's reflections in his recent book "It's Lovely To Be Here". The realisation captured in the refrain "I'm up in four hours time..." familiar to anyone who has ever tried to combine a day job with a musical career.
Title track "Sir, I Am A Good Man" takes a new turn though, a cowboy lament which is more wild west than than West Country - a keening steel guitar creating a dark mood as Lonely Tourist relates episodes from the life of "...a man things just happen to". Its an expansive, moody piece which shows a breadth of songwriting craft by taking things away from the dark, damp club and out into the dry unforgiving desert. It's not long before we're back on more familiar territory however, with the regret-tinged "Beatclub Chancer" where a stray glockenspiel tempers the forlorn lyrics. This track forms a relatively upbeat companion piece to the following "Too Old For Clubbing", ushered in by a sweep of feedback which echoes away behind a delicately picked guitar and some of Lonely Tourist's most understated and sensitively delivered vocals on the record. Later, "Delighted" returns to Lonely Tourist's preoccupation with the business of making music, and uses a sprightly melody to ably articulate the difficulty in dealing with others' success - summing up with the observation that "bitterness gets you nowhere/that's where it got me". It's a tale familiar to anyone who has supped quietly at the bar after the soundcheck and before the support band, and perhaps it's a little self-concious - but there is a heavy and for some I suspect indigestible dose of reality here.
It would be wrong to dismiss Lonely Tourist as a one-trick pony, writing introspectively about the musician's art - but it's unsurprisingly a preoccupation at this point in a career which can only progress. This record is clever, funny and eminently listenable. It reflects highs and lows - and some of the lows are fairly gloomy, but the sense of humour which Lonely Tourist injects into even his most grim self-deprecation lifts things - you're always with him, never against him. I urge you to buy this music, and seek out a gig when he's in your town. To have a talent like this practically on my doorstep is something of a revelation.
"Sir, I Am A Good Man" can be downloaded from Lonely Tourist's Bandcamp. You don't have to pay, but you certainly should.
Lonely Tourist - Patron Saint Procrastinate
Posted in SHOFT on Friday 25th March 2011 at 11:03pm
I was in a desperate hurry, and didn't really have time to stop - but I couldn't resist swiftly transferring the newly arrived CD to my iPod before heading out. I'll confess a brief wince regarding King Creosote's professed dislike of "stolen, compressed tunes" but I'd been waiting for this for a long time - and I couldn't chance not taking the first opportunity to hear it. So, it's out into the warm and misty spring evening with a vague hint of wood smoke - but despite the tinkle of tea cups and cafe chatter I can hear, I'm a long way from the East Neuk haven immortalised in "First Watch", tramping through a post-industrial Somerset backwater in terminal decay. The smoke is probably the hotel burning down again. That this record has the ability to transport the listener is simply beyond doubt.
What is immediately striking about "Diamond Mine" is the sympathy and space which Jon Hopkins affords these songs. His touch is deft, considered and builds gently - assembling sounds off-camera which sweep through the compositions, sometimes leaving little more than an echo. The tracks don't so much end, as melt into each other - with a continuous summery haze of warm noise, or the crack of twigs underfoot. As much a journey as a record, Hopkins works to enhance the simple instrumentation rather than complicate things, using occasional dashes of harmonium or banjo - nothing which would be out of place on any King Creosote record perhaps, but arranged to create a particular mood - a sense maybe of rural East Fife which betrays this record's origins, and it's slow, seven year progress towards release.
It's a strange shock to hear a Bits of Strange song appearing brazenly in public, in the form of a wistful take on "Bats In The Attic" - still an uneasy catalogue of the signs of aging, but here sounding resigned and full of quiet regret rather than defiant. It cements the notion though, that those elusive songs are equally deserving of a wider audience and deserve a life on record - though perhaps to capture them would be to halt their evolution? In any case, this version is beautifully done with a sparse piano marking the melody while a distant crackle of static weaves in and out, King Creosote duetting with Lisa Lindley-Jones as gentle percussion punctuates the mix. Soon, "Bubble" arrives with an appropriate analogue popping and crackling, as King Creosote's forlorn falsetto spins a beautiful and gentle lament over the sparse electronics and muted piano. The lyrics are personal, often bittersweet, and always deeply affecting - King Creosote at his finest. Once again Lisa Lindley-Jones' vocals add a fine counterpoint, keeping the song from descending too deeply into melancholy as Hopkins wash of electronica ebbs and flows like the tide - the sounds of the Firth of Forth never seeming far from these pieces.
Things take an almost orchestral turn on "Your Own Spell", setting out with a spacious, piano backing before being joined by a shimmer of unashamedly Caledonian fiddle which eventually builds against a backdrop of apparently blustering winds, before twisting around its own echoes and forming a crescendo of strings - the pained implications in the line "arriving late in church/your dress is soaked" illustrating a classic King Creosote trick by elevating the tiniest of everyday observations to a pivotal event. The sense of a snatched photograph or hastily scribbled postcard, rather than an over-executed set-piece portrait. The record closes, far too soon, with "Your Young Voice" - a simple repeated, heartbreaking refrain of "It's your young voice that's keeping me holding on/to my dull life...". King Creosote's voice soaring above a gently plucked guitar, before the piano takes the song to it's quiet, near-broken ending amidst the crackle of burning logs or maybe the creaking of a boat - or perhaps with sinister implications, both?
Retracing my steps later, the night is still warm and smoky and I'm still listening to "Diamond Mine" - wondering at its understated, genuine beauty - and pondering how on earth I'm going to write anything sensible about it while avoiding hyperbole? This music is calm on the surface, with strong emotional undercurrents. It's also apparently capable of travel in both time and space. And with the laws of physics left as broken as my vow not to wax excessively lyrical, I commend "Diamond Mine" to you. You won't regret it.
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Bats In The Attic
Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 20th March 2011 at 10:03pm
I sometimes wonder why any of us, bloggers or journalists alike, feel we have the right to expound on music. After all, it's art isn't it? There's no right or wrong way to go about this stuff. But then there is something about being the consumer here, and of demanding a level of quality which suits. Of course if it were that simple, we'd be writing dispassionate pieces for Which? magazine, stressing that this disc is reasonably good value because it clocks in at 41 minutes. FOUND have intrigued me for a while now, because of the explicit and unashamed artistry explored in their work. Indeed, it's impossible to read about them now without the baggage of Scottish Arts Council funding and their various, wonderfully outlandish projects being unearthed. But what is exciting about "Factorycraft" is how it bypasses all of this mythology, all of the confusing detail which made me wonder if FOUND were a band I could relate to? It's just a ridiculously good record. I could probably end this here, but - because we never do err on the side of brevity in the blog world - I won't of course.
So, for the uninitiated FOUND are three gentlemen from Edinburgh who got together at art school. Via a couple of confusing but brilliant albums, an ongoing dalliance with Fence which like all that label's dealings is never quite over, and the ambitious effort of releasing a ton of free stuff over the last year, they come to "Factorycraft". The title is no accident, and from the beautifully designed sleeve to the lyrics of recent single "Machine Age Dancing" the hum of industry and the absurd depersonalisation of automation and mass-production is never far from the foreground. Proceedings open with an old favourite in "Anti-Climb Paint", but it's been refreshed and reworked with slashing guitars and a choppier rhythm. However its howl of sexual frustration remains intact and as potent as ever. It's followed by the curiously titled "I'll Wake With A Seismic Head No More" which bleeps and shudders into life, before performing the musical equivalent of a tightly executed three-point turn into an anthemic rock chorus. Rarely do FOUND's songs remain in any niche or genre for long. The structures are complex - with a curious but insistent internal logic which is perhaps the biggest development since their earlier efforts.
"Blackette" slinks in behind a cartoon bassline, a deft touch of electronic rhythm preceding a simple, sing-along love song to particle physics - and somewhere around this point I realise that this is consistently brilliant stuff. Every song a polished gem of FOUND-style oddness, with a clever lyric and an unexpected turn towards the anthemic, before a shuddering time-shift into another genre entirely . On the previous FOUND records, there were plenty of strong songs of course, but their tendency to collapse in on themselves or to disappear far too soon into a fog of white-noise or bleeping was ever present. With this renewed focus, my personal album highlight arrives in "Lowlandness". It's a fantastic title for starters, but this disconcertingly wobbly ballad drenched in big guitars and burbling electronics resolves into a proper pop song in time for the frankly superb chorus. The lyrics displaying a touch of wry humour into the bargain. On "Every Hour That Passes" this reaches an Arab Strap-eque level of embittered introspection with "its a safe prediction you're sick of me, because I make you sick predictably". Another trademark FOUND focus shift, and the band are chanting "we're just not getting on" like a woozy punk chorus line. The wordplay and dark humour behind the lyrics is a constant delight too on "Factorycraft".
The album ends with "Blendbetter" - a bridge between the past and the future for FOUND, swooping in with a dizzy jangle and a menacing electronic drone. It stutters and bleeps into being with a dark undercurrent, as a tale of everyday romantic ineptitude spins out into a drawn out wash of note-bending noise. And then it explodes...fuzzily and messily with a cry of "...now nothing can hold me back". As frustrated and unresolved as it is triumphant, the track fades as it entered. Breathtakingly good, and hopelessly addictive.
Pigeonholing music is a curious thing. We all know it's wrong and lazy, but we all do it. Even the most eloquent of bloggers can't avoid the occasional genre tagging incident, and it's an easy way of marketing music - just look at how many bands describe themselves in terms of others for instance. So what happens when a band like FOUND defy easy categorisation by switching their reference points sometimes two or three times per song? One approach is to pin down one aspect of the band and amplify it - thus my advance knowledge of their art-school pedigree and their multimedia antics. Another is to invent a genre just for them, and so we have the curious but pretty odd concept of "glitch pop". However, I'm going to attempt to take the third path here and try to let the songs speak for themselves. It feels unseemly to be bandying abount end-of-the-year superlatives just yet. However, at first spin it becomes evident that there is something very special at work here.
FOUND - Lowlandness
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.