Review: Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On (2011)

If there’s one person who shouldn’t be trusted to tell you to listen to Canada’s Timber Timbre, it might be me. After all, my review of the last release from the group, lead by front man Taylor Kirk, was less a review and more a love letter to the spooky perfection of Timber Timbre’s self titled 2009 release. Since discovering the band, they’ve climbed to the top ten of my Last.fm charts, provided the soundtrack for countless lonesome nights, and more often than not, when I recommend a band that isn’t Okkervil River, it’s Timber Timbre.

Timber Timbre has carved themselves a niche market as a favorite amongst the staff of NPR and journalists world-wide. Despite the fact that commercial success has alluded him, Kirk is so well respected that he verges on revered, making music that draws influence from gospel stomps, ragtime blues, centuries old country, and murder ballads of yore. This mesh of influences finds Kirk creating songs that are equal parts timelessly beautiful and unnervingly spooky with the result being hauntingly unforgettable, at once completely unique and remarkably familiar. Timber Timbre, with lyrics that often find their focus on death and the afterlife, are a band that tells ghost stories. Kirk weaves tales that chill to the bone, that stick in your mind during late night walks in silent neighborhoods when the darkness begs to swallow you whole. It’s music that could orchestrate the most sensual and subdued of murder scenes, both in cinema and reality. I’m not saying I ever want to get murdered… But if I do and Timber Timbre’s playing, it’d be a small consolation for the fate I’ve found.

Given the accolades I’ve just bestowed upon the band, it’s no wonder that Timber Timbre’s cleverly titled fourth disc, Creep On Creepin’ On, was my most anticipated release of the year. Of course, given the fact that 2009’s Timber Timbre is probably my second favorite disc of all time, my excitement was tinged with apprehension. I doubted that Kirk would let me down, particularly after I heard “Black Water”, the first track released off Creep On Creepin’ On. Hearing “Black Water” was a breath of fresh air in the cold Michigan winter. It’s hook of “All I need is some sunshine; All I ne-e-e-e-e-d” spoke of my own needs to rid my brain of the seasonal depression that plagued it, not to mention the fact that that refrain is an ear worm taken straight from the play book of Roy Orbison, croon and all. Regardless, the fear that Kirk would fall short of the masterful intensity he exhibited in the past was a fear I had.

It was not thirty-five seconds in to Creep On Creepin’ On, however, that fear was dispelled.

The unnerving elements that were Kirk’s signature on Timber Timbre’s past three releases are still present on Creep On Creepin’ On, particularly on opening track “Bad Ritual”, a song that finds Kirk singing of a “levitating chair” and the “poltergeist presence in the frame of the bed”, set to a backdrop of otherworldly “oh”s and echoed handclaps. “Bad Ritual” sets you up for a record not unlike the work Timber Timbre has unveiled in the past but as the album progresses, it becomes evident that Timber Timbre has not only advanced their sounds, but their themes as well.

Creep On Creepin’ On is still a Timber Timbre record, through and through. Instrumental second track “Obelisk” is anchored with high-pitched violins that recall a Hitchockian aura. “Too Old To Die Young” haunts with echoing percussion. Later on, “Do I Have Power” spins a web of seduction as Kirk’s impossibly smooth and eerie vocals are haunted by an aura of auto-harp before dissolving into a saxophone driven jazz-horror nightmare that Danny Elfman wishes he’d composed for a Tim Burton film. Elsewhere on the record, however, tracks like “Creep On Creepin’ On” and lead single “Black Water” expose a sunnier side of Kirk musically, drawing heavy influence from Motown and doo wop, reminiscent of Sam Cooke at Halloween. Even the more unnerving qualities of the aforementioned “Too Old To Die Young” find themselves sharing the stage with an upbeat tempo, with precise guitar searing, before the song morphs into a romantic ballad of loss, violins swelling as Kirk “burns his bridges”, telling the object of his askew desires that he “won’t come creepin’ to your cross”.

Lyrically, Kirk still whispers his ghost stories and speaks of supernatural misgivings but whereas those overtones were the main focus of Timber Timbre’s past releases, Creep On Creepin’ On seems to give the majority of it’s attention instead on the morality of man, perhaps of Kirk himself. Timber Timbre hasn’t abandoned their noir tendencies but rather refocused them, skewing their gaze more inward, as evident on songs like “Lonesome Hunter” and “Do I Have Power”, the latter of which finds Kirk asking if it would be so wrong to give in to his unsavory, “chauvinistic” yearnings.

The disc, featuring numerous musical interludes, is more reminiscent of a soundtrack than an LP at times, which would deter from Creep On Creepin’ On‘s effect if the instrumental tracks weren’t so evocative and beautiful and if the songs that did feature Kirk’s vocals weren’t so damn strong. Timber Timbre’s most remarkable quality, after all, are Kirk’s alluring vocals. They have anchored Timber Timbre throughout all of their releases and continue to do as such on the best band in Canada’s latest effort (Sorry, Arcade Fire…). Kirk possesses masterful restrain and a smooth, seductive croon. It’s a voice that would make any girl fall in love. When Kirk sang of his body being dug up by his beloved on Timber Timbre, it was enough to make me go weak in the knees and reconsider my stance on necrophilia. This time around, “Lonesome Hunter” takes the forefront as the album’s most “darkly romantic” tune with lyrics like “I’m walking like a zombie to your bed”. That line is perhaps the most seductive walking dead reference in modern music since The National’s “Conversation 16” but even Berninger’s alluring murmur can’t challenge Kirk’s intonations.

Every track on Creep On Creepin’ On is remarkable in some way and although the album is just as short as the band’s last (less than forty minutes apiece), Timber Timbre makes the most of their time on record, from the hopeful opening notes of “Creep On Creepin’ On” to the White Stripes-ian stomp of “Woman”. Creep On Creepin’ On is Timber Timbre’s most hook laden album to date, therefore their most accessible, and the release of it finds the band quickly becoming the great white north’s best kept secret.

It’s impossible to compare Timber Timbre to contemporary acts. While their newest disc’s title might give you the impression that you’re about to listen to a novelty record, heavy on kitsch, and perhaps in the same vein as Dead Man’s Bones, Ryan Gosling‘s zombie doo wop group of 2009, Timber Timbre is just as earnest and honest as ever, if slightly more sunny and self-aware than their last self titled disc found them.

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Rating: 8.7/10

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